FOR many years, residents of Gacaca sector in Musanze District had lived deplorable lives due to the arid soils that hindered agriculture and other activities.
The poor soils impoverished residents compelling them to resort to casual labour as a means of survival.
“The area is arid and practicing agriculture requires fertilisers which many residents cannot afford,” says Pelagie Mukanyandwi, Gacaca sector executive secretary.
In 2009, however, a ray of hope emerged when local leaders and the Association pour le Development et la Transformation Sociale (ADTS) trained residents to form savings and lending groups to lift themselves out of poverty.
The trainees helped mobilise other people and spread the culture of saving and lending.
Though the journey is still long, there is hope that through the groups, poverty will be eradicated.
They started as six groups of 30 members each but there are over 140 groups now.
“Before I joined the group, I was extremely poor and my future looked bleak. I to till people’s land but the devidends were meagre and could not enable me meet my subsistence needs,” said Jeanne Nyirakazi, a resident of Kabirizi cell in Gacaca sector.
Joining saving groups
Nyirakazi and other residents joined savings groups in 2009 to emerge out of poverty.
With 29 others, they founded ‘Twitezimbere group’ and started saving, each contributing Rwf250 per week alongside buying four shares at Rwf1,000.
“Before joining Twitezimbere, money had eluded me. I only worked for food instead of cash. I even had difficulties feeding my family,” Nyirakazi, a mother of five says.
She says that after joining the group, her life changed for the better. In 2010, she got Rwf67, 000 in dividends and asked for a loan of Rwf60, 000.
She kept contributing and in the second year, she got Rwf78, 000 and requested for another loan of RwfRwf70, 000
“I used Rwf100, 000 to buy a small piece of land as I had nowhere to cultivate, and in the second year, I bought livestock, mostly goats and sheep,” she said
“I now practice agriculture using manure and my produce has improved, thanks to the association. I am living a happy life, my children go to school and they have what to eat,” she says, adding that the groups also help them to pay health insurance ( Mituelle de Santé)
Christophe Uwambaza, 62, a father of five and a member of Twisungane said despite the challenges, he uses money from the group to pay school fees for his son who is in secondary school.
“I used to sleep on a mat but when I got Rwf68, 000 in my first dividends, I bought a mattress, and two sheep to rear,” Uwambaza says.
Paying school fees
In 2011, Uwambaza got Rwf72, 000. He used Rwf50, 000 to pay schools fees and used the rest to buy a pig.
“When my son was going to school in second term, my sheep had delivered. I sold one at Rwf20, 000 and paid school fees,” he said
Uwambaza’s pig also delivered and after one year, in another batch, he got Rwf74, 000 in dividends.
He says he makes sure he has a weekly contribution of Rwf1,000.
“I am now sure my children will never miss school because of lack of school fees. I thank local leaders who started these saving groups which are gradually changing our lives,” he said
Mansuatte Twambazimana, a mother of six, also after getting Rwf60, 000 as a result of her shares requested for a loan of Rwf40,000 that she used to buy a cow. She later received 40,000 after selling cowdung and bought two sheep and two goats.
“My agriculture output has improved thanks to manure. I have a kitchen garden that provides vegetables for my children. I am hopeful that soon, I will be having plenty of milk,” she said
“My children are in primary, I am optimistic that they will never go to school hungry or lack basics,” she added
Saving and lending groups have not only improved lives for Gacaca residents but they have also contributed to social cohesion.
“Whenever there is a conflict, members discuss and find an amicable solution. This was not the case before,” Uwambaza says.
There are 147 savings and lending groups with 0ver 4,500 members in the sector.
Pelagie Mukanyandwi, the executive secretary of Gacaca sector, says these groups work closely with sector Saccos which makes it easy for their members to secure loans.
“We are working closely with residents to eradicate poverty. We have a long way to go but there is hope for the future. We plan to set up projects that will benefit the community,” said Mukanyandwi.
Officials at the Ministry of Trade and Industry urge that informal savings groups such as Ibimina and others are economically contributing to the transformation of the lives of many residents.