Uwimana: The primary school dropout who is uplifting vulnerable women

If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself and try again. And Fatuma Uwimana did just that.
Uwimana was the best woman entrepreneur in Nyarugenge District in June last year.
Uwimana was the best woman entrepreneur in Nyarugenge District in June last year.

If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself and try again. And Fatuma Uwimana did just that. 

Dropping out of school opened her mind to plan B–venturing in business. Born in Nyanza in the Southern Province in 1971 to Ali Habimana and Aisha Nikuze, Uwimana was a student at Ecole Primary Nyanza in 1978 but by 1985 she had dropped out of school due to lack of fees.

In 1990, her father, a taxi driver at the time, moved the family to Kigali which proved a bit of a challenge as it was hard to adjust to life in the city.

It was around this time that Uwimana’s mother suggested she takes on a small tailoring course at a nearby training school called Salem in Nyamirambo in 1993.

Just a year after completing her course, tragedy struck Rwanda- the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi swept across the country leaving over one million people dead.

“After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, all I had was my knowledge in tailoring. I borrowed a machine and tried to work a little but things were not easy around this time,” she says.

By 1996, Uwimana still hadn’t found any success, so she got married and put tailoring on hold to raise her family.

Back in business

In 1997, she tried a hand at tailoring again, although she was based at home as her children were too young to be left alone. She sewed everything from clothes to bed covers to curtains.

“An old friend and fellow tailor visited me once and advised me to learn design. I followed her advice,” Uwimana says.

In 2000, she started making her own designs with table mats, bedcovers and even mosquito nets for young children and adults. She also designed toilet covers and many other home accessories.

Uwimana says this“put her out there” and sustained her financially. Today, she boasts of 12 employees.

Her business includes training these employees how to make table mats, bedcovers, curtains and nightwear among others.

Uwimana says that she has trained over 200 people since 1999.

“Last year, over 100 women and girls were trained in tailoring and many have become great tailors right here in town,” she says.

As an established tailor with a number of clients including schools and individuals, she also handles soon-to-be-brides with requests for their weddings.

1425504324Uwimana-teaches-one-of-her-students-how-to-sew.-Photos-by-Pontian-Kabeera.
Uwimana teaches one of her students how to sew. (Photos by Pontian Kabeera)

Achievements

Uwimana says that since venturing into her own designs years back, both luck and misfortune have visited her; but the fortune has surpassed the hardships.

“I have achieved a lot in tailoring and I believe there is more ahead,” she says.

Uwimana has been recognised twice, first as the best woman entrepreneur in Nyarugenge District and then as the second best, both organised by the Ministry Of Labour in June last year.

She has been to all regional exhibitions, and this helped with marketing her goods across borders.

Challenges

According to Uwimana, challenges have been there since she took the decision to take on the business.

“We were Tutsis and were not supposed to get anything, not even education for a bright future. So school was a hustle to get into, for the Tutsi,” she recalls.

She says working under tension and fear also affected her work, especially after graduating in 1993.

“We were unsettled, and in addition to that, I did not even have my own sewing machine.I would borrow from others but sometimes I would have to miss out,” she says.

Uwimana says that challenges are still present today; however, there is a platform to exercise one’s skills, as opposed to back in the day, especially before 1994.

Shamim Uwirengiyimana, one of Uwimana’s employees and a former student, has been with her for a year now.
“I had lost hope after primary six but then Uwimana asked my mum to let me learn tailoring, and she was to do it for free,” Uwirengiyimana says.

She adds that she can now afford to rent a decent place to live, thanks to tailoring.

Future prospects

Uwimana is very confident that the future is bright.

“When I started out, I borrowed machines from other people, now I can afford to buy them. I have a boutique where I display my designs and I hope to expand it further,” she says.

Uwimana dreams of starting a training institution for only tailoring and here, she will be in position to pass on her skills to as many people as possible.

She advises the youth to not sit and wait for miracles to happen, but stand up under any circumstance and work hard.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw