Mujawayezu’s troubles didn’t deter her resilience to keep her dream alive

Jiene Mujawayezu, 43, dropped out of school after primary six in 1985 in Gitarama, Ruhango district, southern province. This was not because she wasn’t smart enough, but because her peasant parents couldn’t afford the expenses of privately-run secondary schools.
Mujawayezu and some of her crafts. The New Times/ I. Ngoboka
Mujawayezu and some of her crafts. The New Times/ I. Ngoboka

Jiene Mujawayezu, 43, dropped out of school after primary six in 1985 in Gitarama, Ruhango district, southern province. This was not because she wasn’t smart enough, but because her peasant parents couldn’t afford the expenses of privately-run secondary schools.

Government aided schools were out of the question then. It was hard getting a vacancy and most times, the ones that could afford it had to bribe their way. Merit was never considered.

So she quit in order for her older brother to continue as it would be easier for her parents to support one child.

While trying to come to terms with the misery that came with dropping out of school, she thought about a childhood hobby – weaving baskets. 

She invested Rwf 50,000(money she had been saving for so long) in buying materials and opened a small workshop at home. “Small-time” buyers started coming in with time, but she still wasn’t able to meet even half of her basic needs.

She later joined an organisation that brings artisans together, but it also didn’t offer much as far as training, marketing and price bargain was concerned. So to be exact, her life became a series of consistent failure and misery.

Light at the end of the tunnel


Mujawayezu’s breakthrough came in 1996, in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi, 11 years after dropping out of school. She joined a bigger crafts making activity called Abahuje bantenyo, made up of over 1,500 people, most of whom are women. Her arrival seemed to come with fortune, as her latest host immediately got a lucrative contract with two firms, Gahaya Links and Rwanda Partners, both known for exporting Rwandan crafts and art pieces.

Since the society was too big, efficiency and quality control started to suffer, so with the help of the Ministry of Commerce, it was split into seven independent organisations. Mujawayezu ended up in a new splinter society called KOREBU that consists of about 300 members. She now serves as president.

Besides that, she now also runs a private handicraft business, valued at three million Rwandan francs.

“The proceeds from this work have enabled me to support five children at various levels of education, plus two others who are not my biological children,” Mujawayezu points out. “I am also building a four bedroom house back home in Gitarama,” she adds.

Mujawayezu is a kind hearted person; more than once she has shared her modest success with the less privileged. For example, once in a while she shops low cost items like clothes, shoes and scholastic materials from Kigali and donates them to the less fortunate in Gitarama.

She also gives low-interest loans to some of her financially challenged organisation members so that they too can send their children to school.

However, she makes it clear that even though things are going a lot better, it’s not all peaches and roses. Sometimes the export companies take too long to pay for items they ordered for, and this has been frustrating to both the association and her private business.

Inadequate domestic market for their merchandise is also affecting the sector. The love for crafts among Rwandans doesn’t seem cultivated and so they are left with no alternative but to rely only on foreign tourists and expatriates.

Another challenge is that work implements are also hard to come by. Even when one does, they are extremely expensive; sisal thread and colours have to be imported some times.

“I have achieved everything I have through sweat and toil. I’m certain that I can achieve a great deal more by persevering and investing wisely,” she ends.

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