From the main Kacyiru-Nyabugogo tarmac road, just opposite the gate of president’s office, there’s a smooth road that slopes down the inner Kacyiru neighbourhood. About 500 metres down hill, is a building that houses Koperative Ubuzima Bushya, a local cooperative.
When you enter this building, you are amazed at the kind of work that goes on here. This is where a group of 12 women normally report to work as early as 7:00am and retire at 6:00pm, spending all those hours between in their daily struggle to earn a decent living.
These women have one common denominator that brings them together: They all came from a poverty-stricken background – where life was of hopeless indigence, until this cooperative was established two years ago.
How it started
Thomas Nkuriyehe is the overall leader of the cooperative. He says that they established the cooperative with a group of 20 people who had just graduated from Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Skills Development Centre (IRVSDC), a small outpost in Lake Kivu set up by the government to provide youth with skills to keep them away from the streets and drug abuse.
“I was once a street kid doing drugs and when Police rounded us up, we were taken to Iwawa Island where for 16 months we were taught different skills to be self-reliant. Upon graduation, the government bought us these sewing machines which we are now using to train women from a poor background how to make clothes and provide for themselves.”
Nkuriyehe says that apart from the 12 women who do tailoring at Ubuzima Bushya Cooperative, there are 63 men who are engaged in carpentry and construction work, using the skills they acquired from Iwawa.
He adds that when the cooperative was established, they had only five women but with acquisition of more machines, the number has risen and more are expected to be trained when they get more machines.
“I’m happy now that the skills we learned from Iwawa are now quite useful in training these women to be self reliant. Many of them had absolutely no means of survival but today, they are able to provide for themselves and their families,” says Nkuriyehe.
And just as they were trained for free by the government, he says that the women they are training don’t pay a single cent. “Once they have successfully completed their training, they work here and take home the money they get from their sweat.”
He adds: “It’s important for them to work here after their training because even after training, they are still poor and cannot afford their rent or buy their own sewing machines.”
Nkuriyehe says that the women save a small fraction in their cooperative account which they can use on a rainy day when they get into any sort of problem like when one falls ill or a family member dies.
Claudie Nyiraminani, 30, is one of the beneficiaries of the training and employment offered at the cooperative. “I joined last year and now, I’m able to make bitenge among other clothes for my clients. The cooperative has given me a new lease of life where I couldn’t even provide for my basic needs before.”
She says that now, she is able to pay her rent and cater for her basic needs from the money she gets from her work, adding that she now has a steady flow of clients who are impressed by her work and normally come back for more.”
For Chantal Nyirabizimana, 25, her life has completely changed for the better. A mother of two, she says that she is now able to take her children to school, feed the family and help her husband, a casual laborer, in paying the rent and do budgeting in the house.
“I was completely poor and did all kinds of odd jobs just to survive. However, even these jobs couldn’t sustain me and the family and life was a daily struggle for survival. I thank God the training I have received here has pulled me and my family out of chronic poverty we experienced before,” she says.
Similar sentiment is shared by Clarisse Ubonyizina who says that she didn’t have any source of income before and used to rely on her friends to accommodate her in their houses and help her provide for her basic needs.
“The cooperative has me helped avoid engaging in dangerous activities of getting money like prostitution and begging to sustain myself. I can now buy my own clothes, plait my hair and provide for my basic needs. I’m very happy,” she quips.