Like one philosopher once put it, start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. This statement summarizes the story of Josephine Mukahirwa, a resident of Gishushu in Kimihurura.
Despite working as a housemaid for most of her youthful years, the 38-year-old has defied the odds to rise from a salary of a housemaid to an entrepreneur and landlady.
Born in Gishushu, Kimihurura in Gasabo district in 1977, Mukahirwa never had any chance to attend school because her peasant parents did not have the means.
At a tender age, she realised that her life was going to depend on no one else but herself.
“Instead of staying home doing nothing as my age mates went to school, I decided to find an alternative,” Mukahirwa says. She went knocking on doors until she was lucky to get an offer as a housemaid in the neighbourhood.
Her salary was Rwf15000 a month but she was determined to use the opportunity as a stepping stone.
“I was convinced this kind of work would put food on my table though not enough to make a saving out of it,” she says.
The situation was compounded by the loss of her husband during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
With no shoulder to lean on, Mukahirwa had to embark on search for a better paying job in the aftermath of the Genocide.
“It was now difficult to take care of my parents and my child, so I decided to look for another job,” she recounts.
A few months after the genocide, she got a job still as a housemaid from a German expatriate who had come to work in Rwanda.
Though her job description never changed her salary was much better.
“For the first time in almost 12 years, I was able to earn a minimum of Rwf25000,” she says.
Saving for a living
“My mission in life was not merely to survive, but to thrive. And this I knew was going to require a great sense of sacrifice to ignore luxury and focus on the future,” says Mukahirwa
And after saving for almost 5 years, Mukahirwa’s life started changing for the better.
Luck knocks on the door
When the Germany expatriate was leaving the country in 2005, he paid her Rwf300, 000, money she later used to secure a small house in Kimihurura that needed lots of renovation.
Instead of living in the house herself, she decided to rent it out and searched for another job which paid this time Rwf100, 000.
After six years, Mukahirwa sold the house at Rwf2, 050,000.
“This was good business for me and I immediately went for yet another plot of land which I purchased at Rwf1,300,000,” Mukahirwa says.
Borrowing to expand business
With the plot secured, Mukahirwa approached Umutanguha, micro-finance and secured a loan of Rwf3million which she used to put up rentals.
“Today, I am confident to say that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, it is from these three housing units that I now manage to collect school fees for my child, take care of my family and make a saving of at least Rwf200,000 every month.”
From being a house maid, Mukahirwa is now a landlady with three modest housing units.
She is paying school fees for her daughter who is at the university among other financial obligations.
She has also managed to secure a plot of land which she uses for farming.
“Today, I am capable of supporting my family like other women and that’s what matters not what I was doing before to reach here,” she says.
Mukahirwa says that the biggest challenge is being able to deal with tenants who don’t want to pay on time and taxes which are still high.
Advice to women
There is no limit; women have the ability and potential to become what they desire to be.
However, this requires discipline, hard work, and sacrifice.
She adds that women should learn that saving is a sacrifice; you don’t have to be earning a lot to be able to save.
Saving should be taken as a culture resulting from financial discipline, Mukahirwa advises.
Mukahirwa says that though she can’t change the direction of the wind, she will continue braving the waves until she reaches her desired destination.
“I want to see myself becoming that woman making a contribution towards affordable housing,” she says.