Pelagie N Mbabazi talked to Immaculate Mukankaka, the founder of Bed Cover Products, on the sidelines of the 2012 Expo.
Below are excerpts:
Can you tell us about yourself?
I was born 26 years ago to the of late Leostauce Habyarimana and Clemance Mukasinave. I was born in Cyangungu in Kamembe Commune in a family of four boys and four girls.
I never had a chance to attend school because in 1994, shortly before the Genocide against the Tutsi, my parents sent me to stay with my brothers in Kigali, one who was doing business and the other who had just completed his studies in Ivory Coast. Almost immediately after, the Genocide begun and my dream of going to school ended.
During the Genocide I was severely injured on my head and my back. So much so that even after Liberation I couldn’t go back to school. In fact, all I would do all day is stay at home especially because the people who encouraged me to go to school, like my brothers and parents, were killed.
What is your childhood dream and are you living it?
I thought I would become a doctor. But after what I went through, and because I never attended school, I think it will remain I dream that will never be fulfilled.
What I am today wasn’t in my plan and I never thought or even had hope of becoming what I am today. Not until 2010, after attending an entrepreneur training workshop organized by Gasabo District, did I think all this was possible. I took a few art pieces I had made at home and sold them during the training session. That is where I got the capital from.
What are some of challenges you meet on a daily basis?
Firstly, I still work alone which means I can only do one thing at a time. This makes it very hard to deliver many orders at the same time.
Secondly, the market is still small. I only get high demand when EXPO kicks off or if groups of people make orders at the same time. Thirdly, another challenge is the mentality about product made by local people; some people harbor doubt about the quality of our products.
When did you start your business and what inspired you?
I was given the opportunity to attend a vocational school that taught us how to make art pieces and tailor clothes. After that, I started working with a Nigerian businesswoman, helping her to make some pieces while teaching some of her workers some of the skills I had learnt. But after a short period of time we had some misunderstanding and I had to stop working for her.
During that time I hadn’t saved any money to help me in case I lost my job and life became very hard. I started by selling one pair of sandals and after some time I started selling two pairs.
In early 2010 some of my friends, who were Genocide survivors like me, advised me how I could improve my lifestyle. They informed the authorities of Gasabo District about my plight. I was called there and I presented some of the art pieces I had made. They liked what I had done and they were inspired to give me training on how to improve my offings. After that, they paid for all the materials I would need to attend EXPO 2011. With this help I was able to establish myself.
What impact has your job made in your life?
It has made a huge impact. If I can remember, my capital was less than two thousand francs, but today I have made above one million in just one year. I am able to pay for my working space and house rent, which wasn’t the case two years ago.
What are some of the major challenges do Rwandan women face?
Many of them they lack the knowledge and skills needed on particular jobs. This results in being dishonest to their customers and they are judged for lacking integrity in what they are doing. They should stop feeling fearful. That was the way I was before I started feeling self-confident..
How do you spend your leisure time?
I prefer resting more than any other leisure activity.
What is your current relationship status?
I am single.
What are your future plans?
Today I am working in a small house. I would like to move into a big one with many modern machines and many workers. I would like to teach many unprivileged people because I was once in that situation and I know what it means.