Some of them are single mothers, others widows, and some were once sex workers. Each of these women has a compelling story; one of ache and difficulty, but they have tussled to make ends meet.
These women are members of Ingoro Ihuje Ababyeyi, a cooperative in Cyarwa, Tumba Sector in Huye District, Southern Province.
They are in the brick-making business, and together, they manage to earn a living.
Some of the women laying bricks.
They are 32 women and every month, they sell over 200,000 bricks at Rwf20 to 25 per brick, earning four to five million Rwandan francs. Over Rwf 2m, however, covers cost of production, but the rest accounts for their wages while some is kept as savings.
How they started
In 2009, a group of about 100 women came together. They were mobilised by the sector authorities who encouraged them to join hands and initiate something that would support them financially, says the sector’s executive secretary Vitar Migabo.
The cooperative’s president, Liberata Mukashyaka, says they chose to go into the brick business because they had observed the demand in their area.
“We only had one brickyard in the area which had no capacity to satisfy the market demand. Yet there was need for bricks for the increasing construction of houses,” she says.
The women scouted for a strategic location and found a spot which had clay; it was also near the main road and was in the middle of several areas without any brickworks.
“That place is where we are now. We have a clientele from other districts such as Gisagara, Nyaruguru, Nyamagabe on top of those from our district [Huye],” a proud Mukashyaka says.
Local authorities provide the women with a marshland rich with clay used in making bricks and also connect them to partners who train them to get more skills in brick-making.
The women appreciate the efforts rendered to them, saying that it is through such trainings that they get better with what they do.
“The trainings we get are practical. We started laying bricks with a trainers’ guidance until we were able to bake them, this was in 2009,” Gertrude Mukandoli a 64-year-old and member of the cooperative recalls.
It took two months for the women to grasp the details of brick production, but for them, it was the beginning of their journey to self-reliance.
Between 2010 and 2012, the bridge that connected them from where they operated to the main road was damaged, this was a hindrance to the turn up of their clientele.
This discouraged some women too as they started leaving the cooperative.
“Others sought a living somewhere. The group started with 100 women, but by 2012 when the district repaired the bridge, we were only 32 in the business,” Mukashyaka narrates.
However, after repairing the bridge, work stabilised and the women started making money and they have never looked back.
“Even during wet seasons, trucks still come to buy from us because the road is good throughout the year,” Mukashyaka says.
How they work
The women lay bricks in the marshland and dry them under shades. Every woman is paid Rwf5 for each brick they make.
They also load the trucks of their customers who come to buy their bricks and are paid Rwf3000 for each truck.
All members are regarded as employees of the cooperative and each is paid for what they do right from brick laying, baking to loading trucks.
“Considering ourselves as workers of the cooperative helps us to keep track of our income. We set the prices depending on the cost of production incurred,” Mukashyaka explains.
25-year-old Chantal Tuyisabe is the youngest member of the group. She explains that one can make money and can only be limited by their capacity.
“Strong women can lay 500 to 700 bricks a day while some can lay 300 to 500 bricks. We also carry the bricks to a place where they have to be baked; the price of carrying bricks depends on how far we’re going to put the kiln. But the price ranges from Rwf2 to 4 per brick,” Tuyisabe says.
The women also ensure to protect the environment, this is why they do not use wood when making bricks. They instead use rice residues, coffee husks and wood flour to light up the kiln.
With each brick kiln, the group uses eight trucks of wood flour or coffee husks and three for rice residues. A truck of wood flour or coffee husks is Rwf200, 000 and that of rice residues is Rwf100, 000.
The women also bake other ceramic bricks and roof tiles though they say that the market for this has not yet expanded.
At the end of each year, they share their savings. Last year, they shared over Rwf4, 000,000.