A trip through the misty valleys and hills of Nyamagabe district in the Southern Province brings you face to face with the realities of a day in the life of a rural woman. Rural areas depend on agriculture and women comprise the bulk of the labour force in farming. But despite the hard labour coupled with taking care of domestic chores, they still rank up on the poverty ladder.
But women in Nyamagabe have slowly but surely disentangled themselves from the grips of poverty thanks to their determination and pooling of resources under cooperatives.
In 2015, most of the women in the district joined cooperatives and through them, they managed to turn their lives around. Aside from saving and boosting the economic status of their households, they have managed to improve their social welfare.
EPOVAT (Ending Poverty One Village at a Time), is one of the many NGOs making a difference in the lives of women in the district. The non-governmental funded project has done a lot in helping women realise their dreams. It’s a poverty alleviation project that aims at ending poverty at village level. However, men are encouraged to be part of the group too. Indeed men are also beneficiaries of this project.
The organisation has trained women and Nyamagabe residents in various skills and after two years, the residents have something to show for their efforts. They engage in bee keeping, bakery, farming and also run small enterprises. They also have a honey collection centre. It’s a value chain centre that has two parts, one for honey processing and the other for wheat processing.
Beneficiaries speak out
Marita Mutungirehe, a beneficiary, has saved money from the project that helped her start a small business and with this, she is supporting her family.
“Using our savings accounts, we are able to get loans that help us start small businesses. I actually didn’t know that I would run a profitable business but I am doing it and I feel proud.
“The other thing is that we get women who have issues at home and train them on how to handle such conflicts.This way, we get to build strong homes because we believe money wouldn’t matter that much if we have broken homes,” Mutungirehe says.
For Eliana Uwimana before she joined the group, the only thing she cared about was attending to her farm. She didn’t know anything about saving or anything else the women are taught to embrace.
“I didn’t know anything to do with saving but now I do and I always save cash which comes in handy in case of an emergency. I am also a confident woman who knows her rights. I’m productive and I help my husband in meeting the family needs. I managed to buy mattresses because we used to sleep on the ground. All of this has been made possible because of this group. I can’t fully exhaust what this group has done for me because it’s a lot,” Uwimana says happily.
Esperance Aberuyendora, another beneficiary, says that apart from the economic benefits, she has also gained from the social security support of the community.
“Before, I used to shun social gatherings because I felt like I wasn’t worthy of being around other people, but this is not the case since I joined the project two years ago. I used to stay in isolation,” she says.
Aberuyendora says she also appreciates the fact that she was taught about the essence of hygiene.
Men share their story
25-year-old Innocent Uzabukira testifies that he was more of a street boy because his parents had given up on him. He resorted to petty crime to survive. However, becoming part of this initiative transformed his life.
“I never thought that having a job was important because to me, robbing people was enough to survive.Never did I think of securing my future.But when I saw familiar faces in this group, I knew I had to change,’ he says.
Uzabukira now owns land and has other side jobs from which he earns a decent living to take care of his family.
Jean claude Bavakure has become a successful farmer. He started rearing sheep and has managed to construct a home for his family.
“The initiative came as an answer to us all; I used to drink alcohol a lot. Even when I got money, my first stop would be a bar but then I wondered what would become of me if I continued living like this,” he says.
Bavakure now owns a farm of sheep and cattle and has constructed three houses.
Anne Abingeri, the project manager, is proud of what the residents have managed to achieve so far, saying that if one compares their lives before to now, there is a really big difference.
“The residents were mostly lagging behind because of ignorance. After they received training, they became very productive.
“They now have different skills, for instance, they do bee-keeping along with agriculture with the aim of having an alternative source of income,” she says.
Abingeri points out that they also encourage the women to form self-help groups in which they save, and with this, they manage to get loans and carry out family-related projects.
“When I look at them today, I am amazed and I lack words to express my gratitude for what we have achieved. Nyamagabe residents have done tremendous work and I am not saying this because I am the project manager but because I have observed this and I am very proud and happy,” she says.
Lambert Kabayiza, the Vice Mayor of Nyamagabe District, applauds the initiative and appreciates what the people have achieved.
He says that it is through such initiatives that people can help their societies develop.
“I am really proud that people are determined to see themselves out of poverty instead of sitting around and waiting for help. We want to see a better Nyamagabe and it starts with us, it’s good and promising that they also have the love and determination but we call upon others to do the same,” he says.
How can the livelihood of rural women be enhanced?
I think they should first be enlightened on their rights. They also need sensitisation on maintaining proper hygiene because this is essential when it comes to boosting one’s livelihood.
Shadia Mfuranzima, Journalist
Rural women continue to face challenges such as access to certain resources; this is why there is need for communal commitment to remove such obstacles. This can be done by various stakeholders; however, it needs to start from the community level.
Rehema Nanfuka, Businesswoman
Since most women in rural areas consider agriculture as their primary source of livelihood, initiatives that help advance the agricultural sector can be of great importance.
Charles Shyaka, Student
The responsible stakeholders should set in motion tangible actions that accurately address the needs of rural women. Factors like gender equality should be made a priority, also, women should be given trainings in finance so that they don’t entirely depend on agriculture.
Felix Kayihura, Lawyer