The three girls, averaging 22 years, sit closely together, engrossed in handiwork. Twenty-three is that age bracket at which one would be told ‘your future is in your hands’ and for Jessica Kabarungi, Louise Mukamanzi and Grace Umutoniwase, there can’t be a more literal sense to the old saying than in their new trade.
At Gikondo Expo Grounds where this reporter finds the three young women, they are stringing together beads to make jewellery. Curious onlookers crane their necks for a glance. The girls are animated, like their life depend on the tiny beads they are stringing together, never mind that it is crafting their future.
The girls, two of them already university graduates and the other still a still a student, say they picked inspiration during 2015 exhibition when they worked for a Ugandan company as casual labourers.
“Welcome, tell us your name so we can make a good bracelet for you,” said Kabarungi, 23, one of the trio, who just completed her university studies this year.
Kabarungi and her mates make beads, bracelets and other kind of jewellery and the expo has brought them a good opportunity to reach out to clients.
One bracelet made of around 25 beads goes for Rwf1,000. It takes fives minutes to make.
“I earned very little wages while my bosses filled their pockets with money I was making for them,” says Kabarungi in reference to her previous menial labour.
“From that moment, I started asking myself if I could not do it for myself instead of working for others.”
When the 2015 expo ended, Kabarungi approached her bosses and asked them more information about the business and how to find raw materials.
She later procured beads from Uganda and started making jewellery at the University of Rwanda, Huye campus, where she was studying.
“At campus, I always wore my products as a marketing strategy. I could get orders of up to Rwf25,000 a day,” said Kabarungi.
Louise Mukamanzi, who graduated from University of Rwanda recently, moved with beads in her bag so she could make products for her clients any time, anywhere.
“I found a way of making these things at school without affecting my studies. I had them in my room, and carried them along in my bag. I can make jewellery in taxi if a client asked me to. I cannot be ashamed of making money. The only embarrassment would be in begging every time I needed something,” said Mukamanzi.
On their partnership, Mukamanzi said: “We are workmates who sat down and asked ourselves how we could make money instead of being employed to make money for others.”
Grace Umutoniwase, 21, a student at INILAK, said she now attends all exhibitions in the country to find clients.
“I started it last year. Children and young people love my products. When a client comes, they tell us their name and we make bracelets and necklaces among others with names of their choice,” Umutoniwase said.
She said finding raw materials was still challenging because they are not available in Rwanda.
“I take care of myself, including all my needs, from what I earn,” said Umutoniwase.
Kabarungi said sometimes her colleagues used to laugh at her, trying to undermine her business.
“Some equate making these jewels to sorting rice or beans, but I don’t feel ashamed of it because I live off it. Since I started, I attend all exhibitions in Rwanda,” said Kabarungi.
This also happened to Mukamanzi, but it’s no longer the case as they started to see how this business is important to her.
“Some friends called me mad. But later they started to consult me for business ideas after realising we could not look back,” said Mukamanzi.
Mukamanzi and Kabarungi completed their university studies this year. They now have enough time to take their business to another level.
“I was talking to some exhibitors who told me about exhibitions in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. I’m pondering exploring the East African market. Now we have time, we will take it to another level,” said Kabarungi.
The girls said during the ongoing exhibition, they can each make a profit of between Rwf30,000 to 45,000 a day.
Messages to the youth
Umutoniwase appealed to young people who find part-time jobs at the exhibition to learn from their bosses.
“It’s possible to return next year as an exhibitor of your own products. Everything we see in life offers a lesson. There are foreigners operating in Rwanda, we can learn from them,” said Umutoniwase.
Kabarungi cautioned youth against undermining jobs, saying the most important thing is what one earns from it.
“Youth should always be open-minded to find business ideas from anywhere. Look at the big number of students who graduated from UR this academic year. We can’t just get jobs at the same time. We need to create jobs ourselves,” said Kabarungi.