Rugerero Genocide widows impacting communities through business start-ups
IN villages like Rugerero and Nyarurembo in Gisenyi, Rubavu district, many widows, mostly survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, have struggled against all odds to earn a living and improve their lives.
Looking at the need for economic self-reliance of widows, Rugerero authorities regularly organise entrepreneurship training programmes such as; animal husbandry, weaving and tailoring courses, for widows of the Genocide to improve their wellbeing. These would empower them to independently earn their livelihood.
Eugenia Mukankurayija is a 55-year-old widow of the Genocide who survived the slaughters with her three daughters and currently has a granddaughter.
When her husband died, she had little formal education. She was helpless and desperate for work. Someone in her village told her about the widow training scheme and she has never looked back since. Once the training was over, she received financial support from the village Saving and Credit Cooperative (Umurenge SACCO) from which she started her weaving business.
“The practical knowledge imparted during the training has proved to be very helpful for me. I am very happy that the projects have made me and my fellow widows financially independent so that we can improve our households,” says Mukankulayija.
With a partnership between the state-initiated girinka project, and the Beafoot Artist, an American non-profit organisation, widows who successfully complete entrepreneurship training are introduced to various banks where they receive supplementary funds, if they wish to establish independent businesses.
Mukankurayija says she is impressed by how the Government has designed its projects to involve and engage people in wealth creation activities at grassroots level.
“ All things are possible with visionary leadership and focused actions. Most of the widows of the Genocide are now hands-on unlike before when they thought their lives were over,” she says.
In 2010, Mukankurayija started a weaving project called “Twitezimbere” that engages over 18 elderly women survivors of the Genocide.
“I chose weaving particularly because having old women operating machines is difficult as it requires a lot of physical strength and yet most have poor eyesight too,” she said.
Besides weaving, Mukankurayija emphasised that they empower several disadvantaged widows by enhancing their understanding of their rights and civic responsibilities to help them participate in public life.
According to Mukeshimana Umulisa, the Sub-county chief in Rugerero, the literacy and income-generating skills classes have enabled the widows to participate in the democratic process of their communities as well as support their families.
“We guide widows who are single heads of their households of targeted vocational skills that give them the necessary expertise to enter the workplace,” said Umulisa.
Christine Irakoze is among several Genocide widows in the area who have benefited from the ‘Beafoot Artist’ training.
Irakoze says: “Initially, people were hesitant about employing me and I had to face strong opposition from my family, every time I expressed my desire to work. Today, I successfully run my business and my social standing has greatly improved.”
Among the several challenges that Mukankurayija’s weaving group faces, low profits top the list.
“Because of the small or no profits we make, many widows who join are discouraged and some eventually leave. At one point we remained with only four people and this was a very big blow to the business that we had to struggle to get back on our feet,” Mukankurayija says.
Finding ready market for their products has slowed business for the widows, according to Mukankurayija. She explains that even the few customers they receive monthly, always bargain hard and take the products at very low prices.
“However, we have not given up because we always expect a miracle from God that clients will buy our products,” she says adding that, “we also receive visitors from abroad every year.”
Contact email: pashwit[at]yahoo.com