How Ujeneza is turning disposable bottles into a profitable business
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39-year-old Germaine Ujeneza is a popular artisan in the Northern Province because of her tremendous skills in using disposable bottles to make curtains, plastic flowers and other decorations. Out of this hand work, she has managed to pay for her husband’s tuition at university for four years and, will soon be moving into her own home which she built using proceeds from this business.
She says that for her, disposable bottles are not rubbish because it’s all she needs to get her products done. Ujeneza shared her experience and how she came up with the whole idea.
How did this whole idea start?
I started this in 2013 after realising how dirty and disorganised these disposable bottles make our society look as a result of people who use them and throw them anywhere.
That’s when I came up with the idea since I wanted to give a hand to my society in keeping it clean and, promote ‘made in Rwanda’ as well.
Which products do you make from the disposable bottles?
They are different things I make from them like curtains, bags, flowers, bungles, necklaces and earrings.
How do you get these disposable bottles in large quantity?
I have women who help me in collecting these bottles from the garbage bins and bring them to me. I clean them thoroughly as I creatively think of what I’m going to make out of them.
What other materials do you use in your production?
I use glue, scissors, needles, threads and sometimes it depends on what I’m going to make, because somethings might need other material.
Your products portray professional skills, have you gone for any training?
Talking of training, I never even had a chance to finish my education, because I dropped out of school in senior five. It’s just a talent in fact; if I could get a chance to be trained, I would improve on my production quality.
How do you rate your products?
Those disposable bottles you throw are valuable because I have products that are priced as high as Rwf50, 000 and the cheapest is Rwf7, 500; it depends on what you want.
How much would you say a monthly profit is?
If I calculated the amount of money I earn monthly and subtract all the expenses, I would, per month, get a net profit of Rwf300, 000. But if I had an advanced way of producing my products I would get even more than that, because I get enough bottles and labour is slow.
What have you gained from this business?
The first thing I would say I’m actually proud of is that I managed to cover my husband’s tuition for four years at a private university. And another thing is that I’m soon saying bye to renting since my house is almost done. All this is coming from disposable bottles.
Who are your clients?
At first I thought I will only get foreign clients, but these days my fellow Rwandans have started noticing the beauty in made in Rwanda products. And now, most of my clients are Rwandans and I like the fact that even our leaders come to buy from me and recommend people as well. Sometimes actually the demand is higher than my supply.
You say it’s talent, are you planning on training others?
What I have in mind is to train street girls so that they also start making their own products for them to earn something and get off the streets.
Another thing I’m already doing is to help needy women. I picked 30 women in my region who are very needy in order to help the government reduce poverty in our country. They are now earning Rwf60, 000 per month which has helped them in their life.
What challenges do you meet in this business?
The challenge I still have is that I cut these bottles with my hands which is slow and risky. But I’m thinking of buying a machine that will simplify my work and boost the pace at which the bottles are cut. However, this machine is nowhere to be seen in Rwanda yet.
What is your goal for this business?
My dream is to start my own big industry where bottles will be prepared to be used in making other products. And I believe I will make it.
I’m even thinking of making pearls so that we also have pearls made in Rwanda and reduce on the imports.
What message do you have for people who still think starting up a business is hard?
I would like to tell those people who have given up before they even start that it’s not that hard. It’s just a matter of consulting experts and finding all the necessary information and at least use the little capital to come up with something worthwhile instead of sleeping on opportunities.