For Francois Xavier Misago and Chantal Mukantabana, marital bliss couldn’t be easier; at least that is what they thought. They soon discovered that a marriage required more than just kisses and smiles. Constant fights and incessant family feuds became the order of the day.
“I was very hostile towards my wife,” says 38-year-old Misago who has been married to her since 1998. “I used to drink a lot of beer and if she complained about it, I would beat her.”
Even with her husband’s violent nature, Mukantabana was not afraid to stand up to him. “Sometimes when he would come back late at night, I’d lock him out and let him spend the night outside,” Mukantabana recalls.
“Our family was broken and we had no mutual respect for each other; ours was a family of two crazy people who had constant fights. It was so bad that I couldn’t imagine ever standing in front of people and vowing to love and respect him forever,” she adds.
However, just a few weeks ago, the couple renewed their vows in front of thousands of area residents who cheered and applauded them after they listened to the couple’s troubled story.
Misago and his wife were among the 100 or so couples who tied the knot in a mass civil wedding that attracted hundreds of local residents.
Organised by Women for Women International (WfWI), the day was an occasion for couples that were cohabiting to formalise their marriages.
“Today we are standing here smiling because we now understand that conflict and wrangles do not help us but rather ruin our family,” Mukantabana told the excited crowd. “We have decided to close our dark past and start a new life.”
The end to a troubled marriage, Mukantabana says, was only made possible by the intervention and support of Women for Women International which helped her understand the core idea of family and also discover the risks that awaited a feuding family.
The road to peace
About 12 months ago, Mukantabana was selected among other vulnerable women in her sector to be supported under an empowerment WfWI programme that would change the lives of rural women.
Though her husband hesitated at first, Mukantabana managed to convince him to let her participate in the programme.
With baby steps, the programme gained momentum, and Mukantabana talked to her husband with the aim of changing his behaviour. He eventually did, after realising that he could lose his family.
“This is a big day in my life,” Mukantabana said at the ceremony before embracing her husband. “This is a testimony that every human being can change and move from darkness to light. My husband and I were two individuals who didn’t understand each other for a long time but now we are here to testify that we have changed and decided to be one.”
Apart from mending the broken ties between Mukantabana and her husband, the programme also gave the 32-year-old skills in entrepreneurship, marketing, literacy and so much more, something she says changed the course of her life.
At the ceremony, 1700 women including Mukantabana, were given a certificate for successfully completing the programme.
The women were equipped with skills in business, entrepreneurship, marketing, literacy, human rights as well as various practical fields that include tailoring, basket weaving, pearl and jewel making, commercial farming, beekeeping, honey processing and packaging, among others.
“Now that my husband and I have put our differences aside, I hope the skills I have acquired will help us grow and improve our welfare,” a happy Mukantabana says.
Mukantabana, who chose to train in business management, says she is already putting the skills to use. Together with her husband, they have started selling food commodities in her area and the couple says they hope to expand their business as they make profit.
“When you are peaceful, everything is possible,” Misago says. The couple lives in Bunge cell, Nyaruguru district.
Antoinette Uwimana, WfWi Rwanda Country Director, says that their intervention is dictated by the need to impact the lives of vulnerable women with the overall aim of improving family welfare.
“By investing in women we believe we are investing in the socio-economic welfare of families and communities,” Uwimana says.
Nyaruguru District Mayor Francois Habitegeko called upon the beneficiaries to put the acquired kills to good use and work hard to uplift their livelihoods.