How women are using community-based approaches to change lives

A woman from Ruhetse exhibits the rabbits she rears to earn school fees for her children.

This‘women’s month’, Love and Hands, on Saturday, celebrated women who impact communities in big and small ways. The community ‘Women’s Day and Exhibition’, was an event held to honour and hear untold stories of women in Ruheste community, who brave through challenges and dare to do something to change their situations. 

Love and Handsis an organisation that uses ‘Asset-based community development’, training to empower parents to start their own businesses and community-based projects to help support their children’s education.

Some of the women showcasing baskets that they made using community-based approaches. 

Asset-based community development is an approach they introduced towards the end of 2017, and it seeks to reduce poverty by helping communities uncover and identify the assets and capacities already present within their own community.

Communities are taught to move from a needs-based mentality to an asset-based way of thinking. They understand the value of what they have and use it as the starting point to solve the problems they face.

A beneficiary of the project (R)shows a beaded scarf to a buyer as Erica Gateka Matasi, the co-founder of Love and Hands, looks on. 

The approach started with the parents of the children from underprivileged backgrounds that Love and Hands supports getting basic literacy, computer and life skills.

Erica Gateka Matasi, the co-founder of the organisation, explains that the aim was to teach them how to start raising resources to pay for their children’s school fees, so they don’t drop out of school once the organisation moves on to another community.

“It’s unique in the sense that unlike other costly approaches that require a lot of money to find a person to teach them a certain skill, they are taught how to run the business on their own, find their own assets, raise their own resources and drive the change themselves.

“What we have noticed is that communities own so much more than what is put on them from someone else out there, and they vandalise those solutions. But when they start something by themselves, they own and protect it with all their heart because they know the sweat and blood that it took to get there,” Matasi says.

Even though the approach targeted all the parents of the children, only the women were able to show up and attend the four-week training till the end.

“We brought the parents together to train them in the community. The first training last year had about 100 women that broke into two community groups and they started small businesses,” Matasi says.

Starting from scratch

Twiyubake (Let’s build ourselves) is a name the women in Kinyinya chose after realising that they needed to stop waiting around for a saviour or a donor organisation to come and solve their problems for them.

After identifying the beaded jewellery business as a profitable venture, the women began contributing Rwf 200 weekly. Within three months, the women identified a skilled trainer from their community to teach them the art of bead jewellery making and used some of the money to pay the trainer and purchase the materials and beads they needed.

Matasi wearing a scraf made by the beneficiaries. 

Two months later, they were able to make beaded jewellery (necklaces, earrings, bracelets) which they sold to local clients. Within seven months, using part of their profits, they were able to send one of their members for further skills training to enable them make more sophisticated beaded jewellery.

These women are among the 200 women trained in the asset-based community development by Love and Hands.

The approach also teaches them to leverage every resource that they have. Everything around them can be an asset and can be used to run a business.

Keyholders made by the women to support their children.

“The training takes four days and one of the things that we identified as a setback is the mindset. But again, organisations have paralysed communities by setting the standard, and communities feel like they have to do it for someone who has more resources so they can be helped. There are women in communities with great ideas but they are waiting for the day that someone will give them the money, but what if that day doesn’t come, how will they start?

“Out of all the lessons we teach them on the last day, they come up with real projects. One of the lessons we teach them is that they are experts in their own community and they understand it more than anyone. This means that they should be the first to rise up and solve any problem that comes up in their community.

“The community leads everything and they choose a trusted person called a connecter to lead. They then come up with innovative approaches and all of them are community driven,” Matasi explains.

One of the connecters, Jackline Mujawabaganwa, who heads the Ruhetse team, shares that by starting small—selling beaded jewellery—they were able to pay school fees for their children. As a result of innovative approaches, each woman in the community group owns poultry.

“We came up with another project called Girainkonko where part of the profits bought every woman in the team two chickens. We found very innovative ways to incubate the eggs and sell some. The women are now required to bring four chickens to the group and the rest will be theirs. Before this, many of the women did not own any assets. But today, things have changed and this assures me that our future is bright,” she says.

Due to the impact that these approaches were making in the communities of Ruhetse and Nyabitare, Love and Hands has trained around 300 people and there are 11 community groups and 13 businesses among them.

The community Women’s Day and Exhibition was an opportunity to see the work that these women have been up to, one year later. It was an exhibition of their work that includes rearing rabbits, chicken, weaving table mats, beads, tailoring, branding, and braiding.

Through the exhibition, participants were also able to engage with the women and pledge support towards their work to help them improve their work.

“This is what it means to turn lemon into lemonade and Erica has helped these women turn problems into solutions and now the mothers are so happy. We hope that this initiative can spread up to other sectors, up to the district level,” says Paul Masterjerb Birungi, one of the participants and Rotarian.