UMUCYO: Steering vulnerable women towards a more hopeful future

Beneficiaries at their work station. Courtesy photos

Single mothers need to be empowered, with access to sexual and reproductive health facilities and education, among other things; and this is exactly what Rwanda Village Community Promoters (RVCP), a non-government, voluntary organisation run by students at the University of Rwanda (UR), is doing under a project known as UMUCYO.

Started early this year, the project aims at empowering young single mothers to become professional tailors and make a living out of their self-made products.

When she got pregnant as a teen two years ago, Alice Muhorakeye and her unborn child were left to depend on her mother for everything, something that didn’t come easy for her family.

Some members of the programme with the products they make. 

The person who impregnated her was also a young man, still dependent on his parents. And this made it hard for him to provide any kind of support.

Last year, she joined UMUCYO where she does tailoring, and, she says, she has started seeing a future, not only for herself, but for her child as well.

“There is nothing better than knowing that at the end of it all, you will have your own money, however little it is. It’s more commendable than relying on another person,” she says.

Apart from affording basics for herself and the child, she is now equipped with saving skills which have seen her save, with the aim of educating her child in the future.

School girls are mentored by a member of RVCP. 

“When you are at home doing nothing and depending on someone else, your mind is fixed on basic needs only, thinking beyond that is something else. Being engaged in productive activities has opened my mind,” she narrates.

Besides, through her savings, Muhorakeye has managed to buy some domestic livestock for her family.

Diane Ishimwe, another beneficiary, says after being raped by someone close to her, she felt like the whole world was against her.

The 20-year-old says she developed psychological problems which made her isolate herself from others.

The students wearing uniforms made by the women in Huye. 

After giving birth early last year, she was introduced to the programme, which she says has helped her become more social — she is learning to coexist.

“I feel like I have a family that cares and is there for me always. Before, I was lonely and overwhelmed with sadness. Knowing that you have someone to share your worries with is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she says.

Ishimwe says she has also learned methods of family planning, which according to her is crucial because it means that she will be able to fulfil her dreams first before having more children.

An UMUCYO beneficiary with her trainer. The programme offers tailoring training to vulnerable women. 

25-year-old Claire Ahishakiye says after joining the programme, she became positively occupied; it has kept her away from hazardous activities such as prostitution in order to get money.

Ahishakiye’s dream was to become a professional tailor; thanks to the programme, she is achieving that dream.  

Initiating the programme

UMUCYO was founded in 2000 by a partnership between medical students of the University of Rwanda, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) and the community of Huye District.

Pupils receiving uniforms made by members of UMUCYO.

According to Emmanuel Mashyaka, the director of the programme, they operate in Huye District and believe that there is still a chance for these mothers to succeed and have a brighter future.

He says getting pregnant at an early age results in many school dropouts, and because of this, they end up struggling to make ends meet. 

“Since many of the males responsible for this are still young, these young mothers are forced to take care of their children on their own, which is a hassle, and at the same time, some even experience social segregation from society,” he says. 

The programme aims at empowering young women and girls through different activities and trainings.

It also endeavours to inspire and let them understand that despite the challenges, one can still make it in life through hard work and perseverance.

The beneficiaries receive free sewing training from professional tailors, health insurance, mentorship programmes, and facilities to cope with their lives.

Also, the programme, through a project known as School Uniform Distribution (SUD), distributes uniforms to vulnerable primary students. The beneficiaries help make these uniforms.

Other benefits

Yvette Nkurunziza, Rwanda Village Community Promoter staff member working with the mothers, says when these women gather, they share their life stories, which heals them emotionally, psychologically and physically. 

She says the beneficiaries receive training on sexual and reproductive health from RVCP members.

They are also offered different programmes beneficial to young girls, and this is done through Gender Empowerment Project (GEP).

“This is done by community health workers to help raise awareness on gender equality, comprehensive sexual health education and menstrual hygiene.

“Women need to get access to information like family planning methods so that they do not face other challenges as far as having unplanned children is concerned,” she says.

In the gender empowerment project, Nkurunziza says the programme works closely with schools and nine-year basic education.

“Apart from mentorship, women are funded to start small businesses, like rearing animals,” Nkurunziza says. 

She adds that they conduct outreach programmes to motivate young girls to stay in school and finish their studies. 

Also, beneficiaries are connected to different mentors to help them understand their role and what is required of them when it comes to making an impact in society.

Being able to feed their kids and save for the future has become a part of life, which is a better livelihood,” she adds.

The women save at least Rwf 50,000 to 100,000 per month.

Mashyaka says other programmes such as maternal health, pyramid, income generation, hygiene and water sanitation, HIV/AIDS prevention and sexual reproductive health are also available to the beneficiaries.

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