Nepomscene Mbarubucyeye and his colleagues are busy in their carpentry workshop just next to ARC’s vocational training centre in Nyabiheke Refugee Camp in Rwanda’s Eastern Province. Being part of ARC’s Livelihoods program, the members of the carpentry association are on their way to self-reliance and are building a brighter future for themselves and their families.
In 2008, Nepomscene and his family arrived in Nyabiheke Refugee Camp, hosting nearly 18,500 Congolese refugees, after conflict and instabilities forced them to flee their homes. In the first two years, Nepomscene and his family were entirely dependent on support and aid from agencies in the camp, but when Nepomscene joined ARC’s vocational carpentry program in 2010, it marked his first step gaining economic independence. ARC provided Nepomscene with a start-up grant and training in financial management, encouraged him to partner up with other carpenters, and supported them to acquire a workshop and the necessary machines. Since then the 5 carpenters and their 3 employees have been very busy living up to demands from customers from both inside and outside of the camp. Not only does this mean that Nepomscene and his colleagues have a reason to get up in the morning; more importantly, it has given them a financial foundation for themselves and their families.
“We have opened up an account in the local SACCO, and I have learned a lot about saving and managing my business finances through financial education and business skills provided by ARC. The more skills I get, the more I can save and support my family”, Nepomscene explains from his shop.
Boosting entrepreneurship and employment
ARC Rwanda has worked in Rwanda for more than 20 years, supporting communities affected by displacement to gain resilience and take back control of their lives. ARC’s 244 staff members are working in all of Rwanda’s six refugee camps hosting Congolese and Burundian refugees, with their main focus areas being Shelter, Water and Sanitation, Health and Nutrition, and Livelihoods and Economic Recovery.
ARC’s Livelihoods Program is covering each of the six refugee camps, building self-reliance and as well as their host communities through increased entrepreneurship and employment. Through the comprehensive Stepped Approach to Improved Livelihoods (SAIL) program, ARC supports refugees to start and grow their own business through access to grants and microloans accompanied by coaching and training in financial education and small businesses management. Furthermore, ARC provides support to Voluntary Saving and Loans Associations (VSLAs) to increase access to finance for vulnerable people including widows and single mothers. ARC’s partnership with Urwego Opportunity Bank gives VSLAs and successful entrepreneurs access to financial services and microloans, breaking down one of the biggest barriers for refugees to start up businesses and increase their livelihoods.
“We can really see how our approach is transforming the in-camp economy and the state of entrepreneurship and business among the refugees. More businesses pop up, and our continuous support systems of coaching, guiding and training pushes people towards more and more self-reliance”, explains Esperance Uwimana, ARC’s Technical Advisor on Livelihoods and economic recovery, overseeing activities in all six refugee camps.
Beside all direct work with refugees to improve their livelihoods, ARC is sensitising other organizations working inside the camp to buy from refugee businesses as part of empowering micro entrepreneurs to grow their small businesses.
Empowering the in-camp economy
Back in Nyabiheke camp, Nepomscene and his carpentry colleagues hope to grow their business even further and be able to compete outside of the camp. Nepomscene’s carpentry business is just one example among many. Take a walk through Nyabiheke’s busiest street, and small shops and cooperatives keep appearing. Just a few hundred metres from Nepomscene’s shop, The Abadacogora cooperative members are busy weaving baskets, which they sell to customers both inside and outside the camp. With support from ARC they plan to apply for a loan, which will allow them to increase production and fill the increasing demand for their popular products. Further down the road, Justin Mukambire has set up a shop and photo lab through a SAIL grant from ARC, and his dream is to expand his business to also cover wedding photography and video. Across the street from him, Olivier Nkundimana and his 23 fellow cooperative members have set up a shop where they sell household items and work as one of the camp’s mVisa agents. All of them work as ARC community health workers and decided to start their cooperative to increase food security while making a good business out of it. Continue down the road, and one of the camp’s biggest VSLAs is meeting to collect savings and distribute loans to their members, and right next to them a kitchen garden is being well taken care of to increase nutrition in the camp while also making a living from selling the vegetables they are growing.
And this is just the beginning. Entrepreneurship, business and employment is on the rise in Nyabiheke refugee camp, and ARC is committed to continue their tireless efforts to support refugees – in Nyabiheke and the other camps – to increase their self-reliance and economic recovery and ultimately take back control of their own lives.