How a medic’s experience inspired her to help vulnerable women

When she was pregnant with her second child, Diane Mukasahaha learned that her unborn child had a medical condition. The difficulty needed close monitoring and following up to ensure she carried the pregnancy to full term without complications.

The news came as a shock to the then mother-of-four, and a medical practitioner.

Dealing with the whole situation took a toll on her. Although she had all the support she needed—medically, financially and socially—the ordeal was stressful and she started developing psychological problems.

In 2011 after giving birth, things got worse. Sadly, the baby lived for only eight months. This was the dark period for the 40-year-old.

Women working at Dikam Ltd. The work has seen most of them become independent. Courtesy photos

“Although such things happen and to anyone, for me, dealing and coping with it all as a mother was beyond my control,” she says.

From this painful experience, as a mother, she felt it was ideal to lend a hand to other women going through all sorts of difficulties with no one to rely on.

She says some women go through a lot of pain with no support whatsoever.

Mukasahaha (far left) at their stall at the ongoing expo in Gikondo.

“You can imagine being ill and needing medical attention but can’t get it because of financial issues, there is no one to provide any psychological support, and at the same time, they are the ones taking care of their families,” she says.

She says she had support, which made a tough ordeal endurable, including experts who guided and counselled her on how best to move forward.

Mukasahaha believes that poverty is the biggest issue.

She says some delay to get treatment or go to the hospital, and are unable to feed their children because of the poverty. All this makes them develop psychological problems.

Some of the clothes the women make on display. 

Her initiative

Early last year on her way home after work, she met a woman vending fruits with a one-week-old baby strapped to her back.

After talking to the woman, Mukasahaha found out that she was doing that because she had to take care of her family.

“I felt the woman needed enough rest and time for her body to heal, and also breastfeed the child. But this wasn’t happening. Instead, she was out there trying to make ends meet,” she says.

The story of this woman touched her, prompting her to provide some small capital for the lady to improve her business that would enable squeeze in more time for rest and the baby.

A beneficiary shows off one of the dresses she made. 

But she didn’t stop there; she wanted to help more women as she felt there were many more out there going through similar situations.

“I started with a few from the street, most of them with infants, brought them to my home and provided them with basic needs and some little money for capital,” she says.

With time, she realised this was not helping; many would disappear, making it hard to trace them and follow up.

She thought of doing something that would help them and enable her to keep in touch with all of them.

“I had one sewing machine at home, I decided to bring in a young woman who had a small baby and lucky enough, she had a few skills in tailoring. I hired another lady to teach her more,” she narrates.

With time, the number increased to four as Mukasahaha kept telling the women to bring in others. The women were all trained to make clothes as she helped them market their products.

Though her intention was to just help a few women, she found herself letting in more.

Because they had bought other machines, the women started making more clothes, and as it turns out, the clothes were liked by many.

In December last year, the money they got from selling clothes led to the birth of DIKAM Ltd based in Kigali which saw the women move from Mukasahaha’s home to the company.

At the establishment today, there are 17 women and two men; they make clothes and school uniforms (mostly for children under 12) daily.

Moving forward

After taking them in, she realised that financial support wasn’t all the women needed, there were other issues to, like mind-set.

Mukasahaha says after enrolling the women, she started talking to them about how to cope with life and overcome challenges.

“When they came, it was hard to deal with them because of the poor mind-set they had about life. Most of them were overwhelmed with their situations and getting such people to concentrate on something wasn’t an easy task,” she says.

She recalls a case where one woman came stressed and depressed because of the regular conflicts she had with her husband.

After counselling and helping her identify the problem, she realised that if she changed her mind-set and found amicable ways to address the conflicts, she would handle the situation better. After some time, peace in her home became steady and has been that way since.

Regarding work, Mukasahaha says the women have also greatly improved. When one has issues bothering them, it’s hard to do productive work, and that’s why she decided to provide other ways of support.

Some, she says, would do wrong and not own up to their mistakes.

This, she says, was because they didn’t know how to communicate and talk about their problems.

The women have become open-minded, and always share their grievances which helps them cope with some situations.

Mary Uwimpuhwe, the manager at DIKAM Ltd, says there are many noticeable changes when it comes to the wellbeing of the women.

For instance, she says, they had to be monitored before to be productive, but now, they know what is required of them and it’s easy to manage them.

Uwimpuhwe says their confidence and self-esteem have acquired a boost, they view themselves as valuable and do not have to solely depend on their spouses.

Beneficiaries share their views

I used to be a housewife and it always bothered me that I had to ask my husband, who didn’t earn much, for money whenever I needed some. I felt like I was burdening him and so sometimes, I would fear to ask and just go along without whatever it is I needed. Now that I have work, life is much easier and we are planning to start our own business as a couple. This wouldn’t have happened if it was only one person working.

Leoncie Ahishakiye, 35

When you are a stay-at-home mother, you don’t think beyond house chores; your mind is fixed on children, husband, and the home. Working has helped me become open-minded, I think of the future. I have learned how to save, which is important, because as a parent, planning for the future of your children is paramount.

Joyeuse Bizimana, Mother of three

I got pregnant while in high school at the age of 16. The stigma around it made me drop out and resort to staying home with my parents. I felt like I was burdening them because they had other responsibilities. It was hard to the point that I considered an abortion. Luckily, after giving birth, my friend brought me here and my life has never been the same. I now pay house rent, help my parents and save some for the future.

Rose M Uwitonze, 19

Working with women has been a good experience; they are fond of setting goals. I used to have the mentality that a woman’s work is to stay home and look after the home, then one day, I fell sick. My wife had to do odd jobs to support us. Within that period, I realised that she had done a lot and it made me think—what if I had allowed her to work long before this? Our lives would have been even better. Men should encourage their spouses to work, and change the mindset about women in general.

Jean Rukundo, Employee at DIKAM Ltd