Five years ago Nicole Iradukunda was aged 5, her health had been deteriorating over a long period but her parents didn’t understand why. They live in Kimihurura a suburb just a stone throw away from Kigali city centre.
Her mother Priscille Bihoyiki couldn’t bear the daughters plight and decided to take her to a nearby AVEGA clinic and sought the doctor’s advice.
The doctor collected samples of saliva, urine and blood from Iradukunda and took them for screening. She was diagnosed with Kwashiorkor disease – a form of malnutrition that occurs when there is not enough protein in the diet.
By standards, Iradukunda’s parents are poor. Her mother told the doctor that they could not afford to provide their sick daughter with a balanced diet because it was expensive to buy the prescribed foods.
However, the doctor had another alternative. He advised Bihoyiki to at least find Guinea Pigs saying they are cheaper to buy and rear at home but also very rich in proteins.
Bihoyiki returned home with her daughter after meeting with the doctor and later informed her husband Jean Bosco Ndinzemenshi.
Ndinzemenshi thought very hard about where to find a Guinea pig. Since the 80’s Guinea Pigs have been reared in Rwandan homes until after the Genocide against Tutsi in 1994, these beautiful rodents are very scarce; they are locally known as Sumbiligi.
He remembered that one of his friends in Musanze district in the Northern Province was rearing these rodents and the following day he boarded a bus for a three hour journey.
By luck, Ndinzemenshi found that his friend was still rearing Guinea Pigs; “I bought one gestating female for Rwf500 and returned home. When my wife first saw it, she did not believe it would cure their daughter. She had never seen or eaten this rodent.”
He told Taarifa that a few days later the Guinea pig gave birth to 12 puppies including 9 females and three males but his wife always disregarded the guinea pigs which according to her looked like giant rats.
He says that his wife gradually changed her mind and the contempt against guinea pigs vanished when she found out about the healing power in these animals’ flesh and blood.
Ndinzemenshi would slaughter one and his wife would cook the meat for Iradukunda to help her recover. “She really enjoyed the food” until they noticed that was gaining weight.
They continued feeding Iradukunda on Guinea Pig meat until she completely recovered from kwashiorkor and began playing with other children in the neighbourhood.
Bihoyiki and her husband did not keep the secret to themselves. They even gave some guinea pigs to neighbours and friends who had children suffering from malnutrition.
Because of the importance of guinea pigs in improving nutrition, local leaders and community health counsellors in the neighbourhood recommended other households to come and buy one guinea pig from the family.
The family advises anyone who despises these rodents or feel shy about breeding them to start raring some because apart from their meat, guinea pigs provide high quality manure.
Now they have 20 guinea pigs but because they reproduce very quickly, they hope that in the next two years they will have tripled.
Quick facts about Guinea Pigs
The guinea pig was first domesticated as early as 5000 BC for food by tribes in the Andean region of South America.
How these animals came to be called “pigs” is not clear. They are built somewhat like pigs, with large heads relative to their bodies, stout necks, and rounded rumps with no tail of any consequence; some of the sounds they emit are similar to those made by pigs, and they also spend a large amount of time eating.
Guinea pigs are large for rodents, weighing between 700 and 1,200 g and measuring between 20 and 25 cm in length.
They typically live an average of 4 to 5 years, but may live as long as 8 years. According to the 2006 Guinness World Records, the longest living guinea pig survived 14 years, 10.5 months.
The guinea pig natural diet is grass
Guinea pigs are good swimmers.
Editors Note: Article was first published February 14, 2018