It is 5.00pm and Edith Mukamurera is still hunched over her sewing machine inside a training centre that doubles as a workshop in Kabuga, Gasabo district.
She has been at her work since 8.00am working on her group’s latest innovation, a food warming bag. This bag can keep cooked food warm for more than 15 hours.
Although she make a wide range of items, the food warming bag seems to be her favourite, probably due to the amount of work that goes into making it. To have a complete food warming basket, she puts together Kitenge fabric, Styrofoam, old blankets and insulating linings all measured, cut with a surgeon’s precision and sown together with an artist’s creativity. She also makes various types of handbags from the Kitenge fabric.
Mukamurera has been at it for the last six months—learning and making items from fabric and other materials. The 46-year-old says that though she previously had tailoring skills, she wanted to take them to higher level.
“I previously would make dresses for my clients, but I figured it would be better if I would learn to make a handbag that complemented the outfit. I came and began learning. It is then that we (the group) came up with the idea of this basket. I graduated in August this year and have been retained to help in facilitating and teaching learners.”
The food warming bags which are tailor-made to fit the clients’ cooking pots take her a full working day putting in materials worth not less than Rwf13, 000.
“The bags are meant for ordinary customers so we don’t price them highly. The large one goes for Rwf20, 000 and the smaller ones cost Rwf8, 000. They come in handy for Seventh Day Adventists who don’t eat food cooked on Sabbath (Saturday) since food can be prepared a day before and still be warm the following day,” Mukamurera says.
What clients see as a creative food warming option, to Mukamura it is a source of livelihood and a chance to make her dream come true. “In future I will put up a workshop where I will make items out of fabrics and also have a selling outlet,” she says with certainty.
Mukamurera says the best thing about what she does is that she is the master of her own destiny. “If I put effort in it, I will develop and get better at it—that is the best thing about it. Currently I am able to pay fees for my children and provide them with what they require.”
It is in that two-roomed house in Kabuga that youth and women like Mukamurera come in for vocational skills training and other life changing lessons like reproductive health and entrepreneurship courtesy of Volunteers Initiative for Sustainable Development and Anti-Poverty Campaign (VISDAPOC) a non-governmental organisation formed by fresh graduates who wanted to contribute the economic empowerment of others and themselves.
According to the organisation’s executive secretary Antoine Niyitegeka, so far more than 250 lives have been transformed by the initiative with some of them going ahead to put up their own workshops and retail outlets.
Though they are not loud about it, their work has not only gained recognition locally but also internationally. “After exhibiting our creation at this year’s Expo, some ladies from Europe took interest in them and this pushes us ahead as they act as our ambassadors outside,” Niyitegeka says.
“Other than empowering them with skills we also see to it that they get market for their products, and Customers are exposed to their innovations and products,” Niyitegeka adds.
The organisation, whose head office is at Ndera, was put together by ten fresh graduates only armed with degrees (economics, social work and education) and good intentions. They managed to get support from SDF (Skills Development Fund) and Work-force Development Authority (WDA).
“We choose to work with the youth and vulnerable women as it was a sure way to curb poverty early enough. We began by empowering them with vocational skills, encouraging them to start co-operatives and also training them on successful entrepreneurship,” Niyitegeka says.
VISDAPOC also empowers them with skills like handcrafts, jewelry design, knitting, shopping bags and basket making. “For knitted products we work with schools to make uniforms for students and pupils and also contract other traders to market them for us.”
In choosing who to take into their programme and work with, the organisation works with local authorities at village level to identify people who qualify to be put under the programme. “The local authority helps us identify the most vulnerable members of the society and we take it from there.”
VISDAPOC also has programmes to combat HIV/AIDS by putting up anti AIDS programs in high schools.
For now, Mukamurera is happy with the progress she has made using the skills she has acquired. “I would urge more people to take up vocational training, they change life forever,” Mukamurera says.
• Made of Styrofoam and blankets between and an outer cover of Kitenge fabric and an inner clothe lining, the bags employ physics principles on good and bad heat conductors.
• The blankets and foam in between the inner and outer layers ensure that the pot doesn’t loose heat.
• Locally and easily available materials are used, making it easily affordable.
• Size depends on ones cooking pots as the bag can be custom-made.
• Heat retention is an old age method that can be used to conserve energy that would have otherwise been used to warm up the food.
• Talk and belief by some that microwaves are not safe for food warming could probably lead to increased use of the bag.