FROM Nyakinama sector, Musanze district comes a story of a woman making a difference in society. Because of her the traditional household tables have turned. Women have become the bread winners in their families. This is not just by providing food but also paying fees for their children, buying land and animals as well as building decent homes for their families.
Naturally, this raised our curiosity. At Red Rocks, an Intercultural Exchange Centre is where the answers are.
As you approach the centre, there are sign posts showing basket weaving and different art. Harriet Ingabire, the manager, dressed in a pair of black trousers, a fitting grey sweater and a pair of garden boots waved at us as a welcome gesture before leading us to her sitting room where well crafted wooden chairs and artistic masks pinned to the walls stand out prominently. Hers is an inspiring story.
“When we came to Nyakimana, there were a lot of underprivileged families that sometimes lacked what to eat. Others couldn’t take their children to school and others couldn’t even afford medication beyond their insurance,” she said sadly. “So I started thinking of how we can help these people by just using the available resources we have and not necessarily waiting on funds from anyone.”
Red Rocks had a huge piece of land, so they started visiting family by family to identify who actually needed help the most. After figuring that out, she went on to divide the land for the families they promised to help. The families then started growing organic foods they thought they needed for themselves first, and in case of excess, to be sold.
“As the women went to the gardens, I also got them to bring their children. I teach some of them English in the morning as others are at school then teach the others in the afternoon as those who were around go to school,” she said with passion in her eyes. “Other than English classes, some artistes come around and teach them how to make crafts they can sell to get money to buy scholastic materials, uniforms and any other basic needs.”
After a chat, Ingabire asked a man to introduce us to Beleta Ntawangakaje’s family-one of the beneficiaries.
When we reached her home, Ntawangakaje wondered why we were there. She came close to us but didn’t invite us in. On telling her that we had been sent by Ingabire she gave us a toothy smile and quickly welcomed us inside. It looked like it had just been renovated. She offered us seats and insisted on buying us drinks from the nearby shop. The excitement on her face showed just how happy she was to have us in her home just before she shared her success story with us.
“I have six children and when my relatives passed away, they left me with five other children. It was hard to live and sometimes I thought we wouldn’t make it to the end of the week because there was hardly food enough for us,” she said as she looked at the ground.
She described Ingabire as an angel sent from heaven when she brought the women together and created a cooperative that weaves and sells baskets to tourists and other people.
“On Sundays and Fridays we come and weave baskets and tend to the gardens on other days. From this we have been able to achieve a lot in life,” she said with pride. “We earn about Rwf 30,000 in a bad month and sometimes we can even earn up to Rwf 60,000.”
From this money, Ntawangakaje has been able to educate all the children she takes care of and four of them are in secondary school; she can feed them and has also managed to buy one cow which provides milk for the home.
She encourages women to join cooperatives and not wait to be funded by organisations and NGO’s but to use their hands to earn a living and take care of their families.
After Ntawangakaje’s story came Venerade Muruyenge’s, commonly called Mama Dudu, another beneficiary. “I wasn’t educated so I always had a dream of educating my children, and through Ingabire, I have been able to buy a goat, two pigs and five rabbits from my basket and crop sales,” she said cheerfully. “All my children are in school and some are learning art and English from Ingabire and I also buy them reading books to encourage them to read more.”
After endless praises about Ingabire, she introduced us to Fabrice Mucyowintore, one of the children doing art. The 17-year-old who used to spend many of his days doing nothing all day is one of the best artists among the children.
“I have learnt a lot from the people that Red Rocks brings to teach us. I am learning English and I think I will be able to sell my art to anyone,” he said. “Although I am still learning, I have also become self reliant and I do not wish to ask anyone for anything in terms of scholastic material or uniforms.”
Mucyowintore is also a role model to many children and acts as an elder brother. He described Ingabire as someone who treats him like her own child.
As Ingabire taught the children, many referred to her as aunty. They listen when she says something and many don’t want to leave her side.
Seeing as Ingabire spends a lot of time with these children and women, one has to wonder what plans she has for her own family. She insisted she had found her family.
“Yes I can’t rule out that I have plans of starting my family in the future but for now, I really feel like I have a family with these people and I want to be here with them for some more time,” she said.
According to her, success is having a family, sending children to school, buying land and animals and advancing in life.
As things seem to be moving smoothly for some of the families, Ingabire regrets the fact that she can’t be able to help all the families.
“Because the land we have and the equipment we buy for art and the baskets isn’t enough, we can’t help all the families and sometimes you see a family suffer but we can’t help them and this is a challenge for me,” she said.
Ingabire tells the youth, “Changing people’s lives doesn’t need one to be rich, we shall share the resources around us with our neighbours but the result can cause a big impact in our lives.”
She further added that Red Rocks doesn’t have to spend a lot to help these people; they just buy a few raw materials for the art and baskets and also rewards for the best performer like books, pens and uniforms to encourage them to study harder.