A few years ago, 40-year-old Renatha Vuguziga found herself in a thorny situation. The mother of four was away in hospital with her sick daughter, and when she returned, her husband had disappeared after emptying the house and selling off family land.
She says their life was a trail of hardships due to financial constraints, but she never imagined he could do what he did, including running away from his responsibility as a father.
“I didn’t know he would sell the little we had and abandon our 10-year-old marriage. He left me with four kids to take care of alone,” she says.
With no place to go, Vuguziga and her children decided to try their luck in the city. Life was not what she expected it to be, and so she ended up doing odd jobs to provide for her children.
When the going became tougher, she was forced to send her two older sons to the streets to beg and get what to eat.
Luck, as she calls it, came their way when Vuguziga’s sons ran into a GoodSamaritan. This Good Samaritan was Lynda Weir. She offered them a place to stay, a chance to go to school, and catered for their basic needs.
Lynda Weir, commonly known as mum Lynda, is one of the founders and the CEO of ‘Acts 4 Rwanda’, a local non-government organisation that provides support to vulnerable and needy women and children in Rwanda.
Vuguziga is among the several women that have faced hardships like dealing with HIV/AIDS, being abandoned by their husbands and struggling to raise children as single mothers.
It is for reasons such as these that ‘Acts 4 Rwanda’ was launched in 2013. The organisation equips women and girls who have failed to further their education with skills in tailoring and craft making.
Situated in Nyabisindu, Remera in Gasabo District, the organization also pays school fees, medical insurance and other basic requirements for vulnarable children to enable them lead normal lives.
Mentoring, leadership, character development and Bible study programmes are other aids that women get from the programme, to enable them develop holistically and contribute to the development of society.
Each of the women is also given two goats as part of efforts to alleviate them from poverty and live sustainable lives.
The programme offers skills in tailoring and craft making and after graduation, those under tailoring are each given a sewing machine, while those who do crafts are helped to get a market.
‘Acts 4 Rwanda’ has now over 150 children who go to over 40 different schools, a big number being in secondary school and the boarding section.
‘Acts4Rwanda’ was founded by four people, three from the United States of America and one from Rwanda. They had a shared vision and a heart to help the less privileged and vulnerable in society.
“On several occasions in Nyabisindu, we were met by young children who would beg us for an opportunity to go to school. Some of the girls were 13 years old and had never been to school. Others had dropped out for a year or two because their parents could not afford fees or school uniform,” says Weir.
She says many were orphans and tried various day jobs to make a living.
Immediately, she contemplated how she could do something to change the lives of these people.
She says none of the founders knew how they would find funds to begin the programme, but through prayer and faith, God answered and brought along the needed resources from her friends in the United States to launch the organisation.
“I believe this is not a new idea, it’s just that people are doing it with the limited resources they have at hand,” she adds.
“One thing in my life that will always put a smile on my face is seeing how the women and their children are happy and how they can now see a better tomorrow, which is different from how they used to be,” adds Weir.
Realising that even after helping the children, their parents back at home were still facing challenges, which led to the children’s poor performances, the programme decided to include their parents too. They embarked on empowering their parents/ close relatives with skills that would enable them to earn a decent income.
David Alireki, the country director, says that although the children would eat and get other basic needs, their parents had no specific work that helped generate income, due to poverty; some children would not concentrate at school because of the status at home.
That’s when the idea of boosting their mothers’ income generating activities surfaced.
Women share their stories
Angelique Uwitonze, a mother of four, says three of her children are benefitting from the programme. For her, this is a huge relief and the biggest break she’s ever gotten in her entire life.
Before she joined tailoring classes, she used to wash clothes for people and the most she remembers ever getting paid was Rwf1, 000.
“I would save Rwf 200 for rent, I was paying a total of Rwf 8,000 by then, the rest I would use for upkeep,” Uwitonze narrates.
Uwitonze says that right now she is able to take care of her family using the money she gets from sewing. Also, she has learnt how to save and she is certain that she will one day open her own business with her savings.
Jackie Mukandoli’s husband had two wives, she was the second one. After life became hard, her husband run back to the first wife and abandoned her with their four children.
When her kids were taken in by the organisation, she was also given support. She adds that this was her turning point, and her life has changed.
Mukandoli can now afford meals and also hopes for a bright future because her children are in school.
Donattha Mukantaganda, a mother of three shares a similar story. After being abandoned by her husband, she started working as a bar attendant. In addition to not liking the job, she was paid peanuts.
Since joining the programme last year, she has become economically stable and already has customers who buy the clothes she makes.
The women have also come up with a ‘merry go round’ (money circle), where they contribute a minimum of Rwf 500 each. They also have a savings scheme where they contribute a small amount of money daily, and they hope to join a cooperative soon.
Challenges and future plans
According to Weir, making people understand how much they can help others is a big challenge. She says most of them think that giving a hand is only possible when one is rich, this perception should change. Anyone can help with whatever they have, including sharing knowledge and skills with those who need them.
She says that educating the women starting from scratch is not easy, and it requires a lot of patience and hard work from both the learner and the person training them.
Regarding future plans, Alireki says they have already secured a place where they will soon put a workshop for the women to do their tailoring and craft work. Also,they are organising how to secure another place for the display of their products.
This, Alireki says, is already in the process and soon, all the graduates will have a place where they can start their businesses from.
‘Acts4 Rwanda’ is also planning to improve the living standards of the women by providing them with better accommodation.
For their children, the programme has purchased 13 hectares of land in Gasabo District where they plan to set up a secondary school.They believe this will help the vulnerable children and youth of Rwanda to achieve the best they can as far as education is concerned.