What was earlier regarded as agricultural waste and a nuisance to farmers in Kayonza, is now a raw material for good quality eco friendly products ranging from fashion accessories to home decor that is helping women from poor backgrounds alleviate poverty. Through a series of training they got from a project designed for a select economically disadvantaged women in Kayonza district, they learned a rare technique of using hand scraping and pulp out of vertical strips from the banana stem to make a range of banana fiber products. Every six months, such training workshops are conducted at Urugo Women Opportunity Centre, where they learn different techniques including weaving, making handmade carpets, and literally skills on the use of technology, among others. ALSO READ: Banana-fibre-sanitary-pads-could-help-Rwandan-women-and-girls Six years ago, Grace Muteteri, a 45-year-old mother of six, lived under difficult circumstances in her village in Nyamirama sector. She joined the group and enrolled in weaving and learned to make products from banana fibers. She can now display products worth Rwf 40,000 every two weeks at the group’s show room at the centre. She said: “I was the poorest woman in my village; that is why they chose me to benefit from the training six years ago. But now I graduated from being the poorest and now employ other women who provide me with banana fibers that I use to make products.” Muteteri works with 30 other women selected to benefit from the training at the centre. Besides making eco-friendly products from banana fibers, they formed a savings cluster that lends money to them. So far, their savings cluster has managed to lend Rwf 350,000 to its members, according to the cluster leader, Martha Batamuriza. Batamuriza, a teen mother, was able to buy livestock and pay school fees for her young sister. She no longer relies on her parents for her personal needs. She said: “As a teen mother I used to rely on my parents. They provided everything for me and my baby, but since learning skills from the training I support myself financially. I make bowls, baskets and carpets from banana fibers and when we sell I generate income.” According to Kayonza District mayor, John Bosco Nyemazi, equipping vulnerable women with skills has helped them overcome challenges. The district looks forward to connecting them to more advanced training so that they can act as trainers to other women in different cooperatives in the district. Currently, 80,000 women countrywide have benefited from such projects according to Berna Rusagara, the Executive Director of Women for Women. Rusagara said after the women complete programs, “we continue to support their journey to empowerment and self-sufficiency through forming village saving schemes, and loan associations that evolve into financial saving groups or cooperatives.” According to her, there are 90 digitized village saving and loan associations consisting of 2,250 members in seven districts.