Eugenie Mukobwujaha used to start the day by tending to the family’s small farm; as a struggling household, they barely had enough to eat. She relied on her husband to provide most of the basic needs. She never thought about the future or self-reliance.
She took whatever life threw her way. However, all this changed when CAVAP, an initiative that aims at fighting extreme poverty, violence and HIV, came into her life.
Mukobwujaha is now an active member of society whose plans entail seeing her family prosper and also, empowering herself.
She recalls the time when she solely depended on her husband, a life she says she wouldn’t go back to.
“Before I joined this cooperative, I always thought that all I could be was a housewife and that making money was a duty for my husband. Even though I wasn’t content with what I had, I thought I had no other alternative,” she says.
The mother-of-three, however, says she has now become a woman she admires, a woman who is hardworking and developmental.
“There is a big difference if I look back at who I used to be. This has sharpened my mind; before it was hard as I depended on my husband solely for almost everything, but now I help out with expenses at home, we build each other,” she says.
Aside from rearing animals now, Mukobwujaha managed to open a small retail store.
Through the cooperative women have access to small loans, and some of them have managed to start up small businesses.
Evanith Kayitesi, a former school teacher, now owns a salon and saves up to Rwf40, 000 a month. She also owns an electronics shop worth Rwf 4,000,000.
Kayitesi says that even though she had a salary to depend on, the objectives of the cooperative seemed very important in terms of empowerment and this is what made her join.
“I now have access to loans and pay a reasonable interest rate compared to other financial institutions. I pay school fees for my children and they are in private school, which wasn’t the case before,” Kayitesi says.
Aside from the financial package that comes with the cooperative, Kayitesi delights in the fact that she gets to meet other women who share constructive ideas.
“Being a part of this has helped me a lot; I am now in touch with fellow women. This gives us a platform to intercede when it comes to family conflicts because of the training we get and we have seen a number of families give testimonies,” Kayitesi says.
She calls on other women to step up and get productive as well.
“For starters, one can join a cooperative and start saving, even if it’s only Rwf500 it counts and can make a difference.”
Communities Allied against Violence, HIV/AIDS and Poverty (CAVAP) is a project that was established three and a half years back in Gatsibo District within six sectors; Murambi, Gasange, Remera, Rugarama Kiramuruzi and Kiziguro.
Supported by Africa Evangelistic Enterprise (AEE), a non-government organisation, CAVAP uses a self-help group method where beneficiaries are organised into different groups through which they are given exercises on issues such as poverty eradication and gender-based violence, among others.
The target group is ubudehe category one and two. Beneficiaries meet on a weekly basis where they are sensitised on savings and getting access to loans within their groups and other financial institutions.
CAVAP has supported over 7000 beneficiaries.
Berra Kabarungi, the project manager, says it is through partnership with influential community stake holders that they manage to plan sustainable development of the project.
She points out that one of the biggest challenges these women face is illiteracy as most of them have either not gone to school or dropped out.
“They don’t have skills and they don’t have access to information and knowledge, they may even have resources within their respective communities but don’t know how to utilise them,” Kabarungi says.
Kabarungi notes that this not only affects the women, but also the upbringing of their children, hence, poverty becomes a cycle.
“If we are to promote gender equality, we need women socially and economically empowered,” she says.
She also notes that the project involves working with the local people in society which will ensure the continuity of the project.
Women also have access to Police, women councils, and local leaders and with this; they know where to go and who to approach in case they have a problem.
Kabarungi says it’s very exciting to see these women rise to people with a vision.
“Of course you don’t feel like they have reached the very point you want them to but at least you’ve helped them move from one level to another. There are some who joined the group when they had absolutely nothing, some say they used to live in isolation but this has all changed for them,” Kabarungi says.
Beneficiaries share their story
45-year-old Berina Dusenge now runs her own business. She has managed to venture into farming and has a farm of goats and cows.
She pays health insurance for her household and also constructed a fence for her house.
Dusenge is also happy to say that her confidence got a huge boost.
“We meet different people through this cooperative and this has helped me build my confidence. I can now approach people in leadership which wasn’t the case before. I can stand and speak in public and to me this is a very huge milestone,” she says.
She urges other women to join cooperatives because they not only give them access to financial stability, but also open one’s mind to a number of endless opportunities.
51-year-old Cotilda Musengimana, a widow, says CAVAP has helped her in terms of financial stability.
“I know I am getting somewhere because even though we were only saving Rwf200 per week, we managed to buy cows and goats, something I could never have managed as an individual,” she says.
Musengimana says that they are aware of important issues such as gender-based violence and the fight of deadly diseases such as HIV.
“At times, I wonder how we got here; I mean for only Rwf200 we are making significant progress. What I have come to realise is that the amount one has is not the issue, with proper planning, it can turn out to be profitable.”
Musengimana is of the view that women should look up to others who are successful, with the little they have, they can maximise it and even though it might take a while, the rewards are worth it.
How can marginalised women be empowered?
Most of these women lack confidence and the skills that would enable them to overcome some of the issues affecting their lives, especially poverty. I think encouraging them to be active and participate in numerous activities can be of value instead of sitting at home.
Prossy Mbabazi, Administrator
I encourage them to join local cooperatives; like the saying goes ‘two heads are better than one’. With others, they can achieve much more than what a woman can do alone.
Robert Mugabe, Reflexologist
The government has done a lot in terms of empowering women but I think this should be a consistent process. Women need to be empowered for them to have the skills that can help them exploit their full potential, for example, through trainings.
Yves Ujeneza, Businessman
I think the secret lies in helping women know their rights. Understanding what they are entitled to, the opportunities present and what it is that they can achieve can be of tremendous benefit.
Specioza Nirere, Janitor