Ruhango teens weaving their way out of poverty


The youngsters pose for a picture with some of the items they make. The teens work under the tutelage of Ruhango's Berwa Women's Association found in Byimana sector. (Stephen Nuwagira)

You can easily spot them out from a group of women making handicrafts. Passion is written all over their curious faces; and the movement of their tender hands tells a tale of one versed with their craft. 

The four youngsters are unfazed and feel at home among the tens of women making crafts on a hot Sunday afternoon.

“Could this be the next generation of artisans, and a new crop of entrepreneurs being taken through the drills that make top notch business leaders,” I ask myself.

The three girls and a boy are the youth arm of the Berwa Women’s Association, a women’s handicraft-making group found in Kamusenyi, Byimana in Ruhango District. The group makes crafts and ornaments, including baskets, table mats, earrings, and wall mats, as well as toys and ornamental balls, for the local and export markets.

I was to learn later that the youngsters’ stories are different yet interwoven; and all revolve around an artisan and enterprising mother, and the desire to improve one’s living standards and those of the community.

Christine Kado heads the Berwa Women’s Association, which inspired, and is mentoring the teens on their entrepreneurship journey. (Stephen Nuwagira)

As we interacted more, the youngsters told me they ended up in the group because they would regularly help their mothers to ferry raw materials from forests or buy them from markets for their mothers, as well as watching them work as they were growing up. This fascinated, and inspired them to join the craft, at first as a pastime activity, they said.

And like was said by the sages of yesteryears, if you want to train children in any given trade, it is advisable to start them when they are still young. That is why the approach by Berwa women who encouraged their children to embrace crafts-making is paying off as some of the 10 junior members’ group are slowly taking steps toward wealth-creation buying assets like goats, sheep, chicken and rabbits using savings from handicraft sales. Here under are the youngsters’ stories:

Your talent is a gold mine

Sixteen-year-old Godelieve Mukanyandwi is the youngest member of the women’s group. The teenager says she joined the crafts-making group when she was in P4.

She says she was initially inspired to join crafts-making for fun to make small balls to use at school during break or sports time. She adds that as time went on she realised that she could earn some pocket money from selling such handicraft.

Mukanyandwi, the youngest member of the group, making an earring. (File)

That was to be her turning point as she took commercial-oriented craft-making two years ago. Mukanyandwi, who will be joining Senior One this year, says she makes baskets, earrings and ornamental balls from which she earns cash to buy basic needs like soap, and scholastic materials.

“Since I started making crafts for sale, I have been able to get money to support myself and eases pressure on my parents,” says the former pupil of Byimana Primary School.

Mukanyandwi notes that she makes most of the crafts during the holidays so that the activity does not interrupt her studies in any way.

Though her monthly earnings are not much, she plans to start saving a big part of her income as she prepares to open up a small business in the future.

She challenges young girls and youth in general to be innovative and use their talents to become self-sustaining.


Rukundo to create social media pages to market group’s products

Jean Irene Rukundo

Jean Irene Rukundo is one of the few boys in this 10-member youth group. Curiosity led him to join activities of the group that is headed by his mother, Christine Kado. The youngster’s earlier role involved helping to transport the raw materials women use to make handicrafts from markets or forests, where they get some of the stuff they use. But, as night follows day, the young boy picked interest and was curious to see if he can also make crafts, a job that is mostly associated with women. “Since I like football, I started by making ornamental balls, and slowly gained some skills to do other crafts like wall marts and table marts,” he says.

Rukundo says it is important for youth to acquire vocational skills, and involve in activities that will help them earn money to avoid dependence (on parents) syndrome. The S4 student of Ecole Agriculture and Veterinaire de Gitwe in Ngoma district urges youth to work hard, and develop a savings culture.

“Young people should also join co-operatives because it is through organised groups that they can access funding to start income-generating projects and achieve economic empowerment,” he says. He says he uses the money earned from crafts to buy clothes and save some in a SACCO. He believes the future of the group lies in harnessing ICTs to market their products to a wider audience. He says the Internet is a huge resource that he would help the group tap into by creating social media pages where they can post their products to attract more buyers. “This way, we can reach more buyers and increase our earnings.”

Getting your hands dirty is one of the best ways to reduce youth unemployment

Claudine Uwamahoro

Claudine Uwamahoro

The Senior Two student of Groupe Scolaire Byimana in Ruhango District makes baskets and wall marts during school holidays. She says she uses the money from the sales to buy scholastic materials and other items like shoes. She is planning to open a savings account with the SACCO so she can save for a future project.

Uwamahoro, 17, says getting your hands dirty is one of the best ways to reduce youth unemployment and poverty, especially in rural areas.

Yankurije started an agro project using savings from handicraft sales

Epiphanie Yankurije

Epiphanie Yankurije is shy, but a shrewd and enterprising young woman. She says she has been able to start an agriculture project using savings from handicraft sales. She now owns one goat and some local chicken and rabbits, which she keeps at her parent’s home. She says she will expand the project when her savings increase.

The eldest of the young members of the Berwa Women’s Association will be joining Senior Six next term. She joined the group close to two years ago, and says she earns over Rwf10,000 in a good season, a big part of which she saves with local SACCO. Her mother, in whose footsteps she is following, is a member of the seniors’ group.

The stories of the youngsters are simple. The youngsters have a simple mission – self and community improvement. What is more, they use local approaches to find solutions that affect them, which will eventually improve their wellbeing, and that of the community. This could in turn see thousands of youth in the communities embrace the self-reliance path. The multiplier effect of such initiatives would have a national, regional and global impact going forward as exports, real GDP and their income per capita grows. It is from such efforts that the country will be able to realise its Vision 2020, and the second Economic Development and Poverty Eradication Strategy (EDPRS II) goals, which will help deliver the country into the middle income status.

Any development guru will affirm that it is such small initiatives that make the difference in our lives; determining who makes it as a successful business person or falls by the roadside on the entrepreneurship journey. This is the more reason that such youth should be mentored by skilled entrepreneurs to help them grow and blossom to astute business leaders of tomorrow for Rwanda to fully tap into their potential, and to inspire other young people.