In Rukara Sector and the neighbouring villages of Rwamagana District, Alphonsine Uwamahoro, 48, is commonly known by what she does for a living than her real name.
This is mainly because she is the only woman in Rukara to venture into the male-dominated business of making and baking construction bricks.
Venturing into brick-making did not come out of choice for Uwamahoro, but rather a desperate move to find something to earn a living.
“Previously, I was a potter, but I used to go without income for more than two months because of scarcity of customers. I would move from place to place vending pots on my head, sometimes spending a whole day without a meal.”
Uwamahoro was inspired into the business after a skills training programme with Women for Women International, a non-government organisation that aims to empower Rwandan women through skills development. The NGO encourage women to use acquired skills to engage in economic activities previously dominated by men.
“If men can make bricks, sell them and get money why can’t a woman do the same? That is one thing I asked myself,” says Uwamahoro.
In 2011, Uwamahoro lost her husband with whom they had two children together. That meant that the burden of providing for the children fell squarely on her shoulders—food, school fees and all basic needs.
“Ever since I ventured into this business, I am able to get health insurance for my children, pay school fees and buy other requirements. I can make, say 10,000 bricks and sell 8,000 at Rwf250 each. Sometimes the price goes up to Rwf300,” she says.
To date, Uwamahoro employs three men who helped her fetch water, dig and mix soil and collect firewood for baking bricks. “I pay them Rwf1, 500 each per day,” she revealed.
In her neighbourhood, Uwamahoro is now an inspiration to hundreds of jobless women who are looking for ways of ending dependence on their husbands. She encourages those who seek her counsel to think hard so that they are able to create their own jobs that can sustain themselves and their families.
“I want to encourage women that what men can do, we too have the potential to do unless when one is sick. Let us [women] work hard to develop our selves instead of going to the streets to beg.”
For Uwamahoro, three years of hard work have not been in vain. “After the first two years of work, I had saved enough money to build a house.” She did most of the work by her self—spending money on only those items she could not make such as windows, doors, and roofing materials.
Even with her own house and a steady income, Uwamahoro says that she has not yet reached the comfort zone. “I need to do more training in plumbing to broaden my skills because I want to start a new project of building toilets and water tanks.”
For all the positive changes in her life, this mother of two is grateful to Women for Women International. “I could not read or write a single word before I joined Women for Women International, but now I am able to write my name and read same words in Kinyarwanda,” she says.