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Building Better Lives for Widows, Orphans

Posted by | April 6, 2016

Headshot of Francoise Gakuba

April 6th, 2016 WSU Online-

A decade ago, Francoise Gakuba came to the U.S. from Rwanda. She already had a food science degree from the University of Burundi, but wanted to better help her native county.

“Households in Rwanda lack infrastructure, such as clean water, electricity, refrigeration systems, that support food safety,” she said. “I want to teach them food safety and management skills to help them create projects that generate money.”

In spring 2014, the Seattle resident enrolled in Washington State University’s online master’s in agriculture, food science and management option. The program, offered through WSU Global Campus, combines food science with executive management courses.

“Finding the combination of science and management was a good move,” Gakuba said. “This program enhanced my confidence in the area of food safety, and gave me the skills I need to help communities in developing countries.”

Gakuba made a trip back to Rwanda in 2014 and worked alongside the non-profit group Equipping, Restoring, Multiplying Rwanda ( The group, managed by her husband, is helping the country recover from the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Tutsi men, women, and children were killed, as well as thousands of Hutus who opposed the massacres. Gakuba’s specific focus is on widows and orphans.

“My role is oriented toward food safety, product development and training to help widows develop small-scale businesses to generate income,” she said. “The organization has a vocational school for them and we are working on starting a culinary class, which will include food safety education.”

ERM Rwanda also lets Americans sponsor widows and orphans. During her 2014 trip, Gakuba collected information about food safety education needs, and helped families figure out how to use their sponsorship stipend, which is $40 a month for widows, and $35 for orphans. Without training, she said, families often decide to spend that money on immediate needs, instead of investing it for future profit.

“I motivated four families to identify their priorities and use their sponsorship wisely by choosing a feasible project,” she said. “As a result, two were able to buy land to be able to farm, and the other two were able to get running water with the plan to sell the clean water to neighbors. I also helped teach teenagers about the Bible and personal hygiene.”

Barbara Rasco is Gakuba’s advisor at WSU. “Francoise is dedicated to helping improve the lives of families through better health and food safety practices in the home,” Rasco said. “She is focused on making the world a better place in the best tradition of a land-grant university.”