KIREHE - Ingabire, 19, has been struggling to make life better for the last fifteen years. Both Ingabire and her mother Joyce, a genocide widow have lived in a small grass thatched house in Gahara sector of Kirehe district, Eastern Province before and after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
As an orphan, she was always worried about her education and the poor livelihood of her family. At the age of five, Ingabire lost her father during the genocide, but she survived with two of her siblings; Claude and Jacqueline.
As the elder child in the family, she was frustrated to see her mother struggling daily to make ends meet.
“Sometimes we had one single meal a day,” she recalls.
The grass thatched house in which they lived leaked when it rained- wetting their bedrooms and damaged their house property.
“In rainy seasons my brothers, sisters and I moved to our mother’s room which had only two iron sheets covering her bed. Our room had a grass thatched roof that leaked a lot,” she narrates.
Despite being young, Ingabire had a dream of becoming a nurse even though she could not see the possibility of attaining an education.
“Extreme poverty took away my dream. But fortunately with help of relatives and friends, I was enrolled into a local primary school in our village,” she says.
“I could not make it to Primary six due to eye problems; I had difficulty seeing. My eyes lost focus and couldn’t read the words my teachers wrote on the blackboard or revise my books.
I was lucky I did not become totally blind. My mother knew this condition was complicated yet she had no money to take me to a qualified doctor at the health centers for treatment. There was no alternative but to drop out of school,” she narrates.
“I became helpless and felt that my family’s misery was caused by our father’s absence.”
Getting new clothes was a very difficult thing in this young girl’s family.
“We put patches on the holes that were on our old clothes,” she said.
When Catholic Relief services (CRS) introduced a project that provided support and various professional trainings to orphans and vulnerable children in the area three years ago, Ingabire joined other basket weavers to improve her family’s livelihood.
“Since I joined the basket weavers, my family’s economic transformation has changed. I was one of the 20 pioneer beneficiaries of the training, who were later assigned by the CRS volunteers to train other orphans and vulnerable children in the area.”
Ingabire then started generating income which she used to buy clothes and other essentials they needed at home.
CRS, through its Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), a project funded by President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) provided equipment to the beneficiaries.
Ingabire explains that the organization also helped them to find market for their products through connecting their cooperative ‘Humura’, to ‘AVEGA Agahozo’, an association of genocide widows that exported the high quality baskets.
“In return we shared the money depending on how many baskets each of us weaved,” she explained.
Ingabire’s aspirations did not stop at basket weaving, but through CRS supported saving and internal lending communities (SILC); she was inspired to join yet another cooperative.
“We were advised and supported to form saving groups of 30 members. We have since then contributed money and given it in form of loans to each member of the unit who wishes to start a small income generating activity,” she said.
According to Ingabire, in addition to starting small businesses, the loans have helped them buy goats and other small livestock. She adds that SILC has helped each member of “Twisungane”, another cooperative, to at least buy a goat.
In spite of Ingabire’s lost dream of becoming a nurse, she has become a role model in her neighborhood.
“I don’t have much income, but in my community it so unusual for a young orphan girl to be independent and possess property,” a smiling Ingabire says.
Consequently, she has managed to re-construct and buy iron sheets for the family house and has bought clothes for her siblings in primary school.
Ingabire has also managed to buy two goats and a half Friesian cow that produces 10 liters of milk a day. Through the income from her projects, Ingabire managed to buy one acre of land on which she has planted pineapples.
“I expect my income to greatly increase when I start harvesting the pineapples,” she proudly says adding that: ‘At times I feel like buying eye glasses to go back to primary school since there is a government policy for free primary education for all.”
According to Anathalie Mukankusi, a CRS Service official in charge of economic strengthening, CRS in partnership with Caritas Diocese and other local partners and authorities, will continue promoting microfinance and supporting orphans and vulnerable people through savings and internal lending communities.
Mukankusi said that CRS provides trainings in financial literacy, basic business skills, and record keeping and then supports its partners to organize beneficiaries into saving and Internal Lending groups.
“CRS is currently soliciting financial support to implement an approach known as Private Service Provider, a model that will scale up the SILC program even after the support projects are closed,” Mukankusi said.
The SILC approach in Rwanda by September 2009 had enrolled 20,819 members into 862 saving groups in different dioceses of which 5,600 are from Kibungo diocese.
Ingabire is one of those Rwandan’s who were pulled out of dire poverty and empowered to independently provide for their families.