For many years, life was an uphill task for Emmanuel Bizimana until he joined a carpenters’ cooperative.
The resident of Rubavu Sector in Rubavu District said that though he had a chance to attend a technical and vocational training institution, he earned little working individually.
“I worked in a disorganised manner for many years. Though I had the skills, I always struggled. I was always employed by other people who paid peanuts,” Bizimana narrated.
“Even when I tried to work on my own, I had nowhere to operate from. My colleagues and I used to operate from homes and we always clashed with local authorities over taxes. Besides, we could hardly get clients as we had no address.”
Bizimana, 39, a father of two, said that because of not having a proper address, carpenters were given no value.
It was not until 2010 that Bizimana and other local carpenters and others skilled in various domains were mobilised by local leaders to start a cooperative.
The cooperative not only brought them together in one location, it was also an opportunity to get support from local authorities to boost their activities and generate more income.
The cooperative was accredited in 2012. It was named Cooperative des Artisans Menuisiers Ebenists (COAME), bringing together many craftsmen.
“It was then that I began working consistently and could generate a reasonable income. I started getting customers as I had earlier been trained formally, my work was appreciated and many customers started looking for me,” said Bizimana.
The cooperative currently operates from Gisenyi Sector bordering the DR Congo. Some of their clients come from across the border in Goma.
“Every member has shares in the coop and the harder they work the more they earn. I work very hard and my earnings differ from time to time but customers are increasing by the day,” he said.
“Thanks to the cooperative, I have managed to marry. Now that I have a family, costs have increased but I manage to fend for them. I have also managed to buy a plot of land and built a modern house worth about Rwf10 million,” he said.
Bizimana said he earns between Rwf300,000 and Rwf450,000 a month which he believes will increase in the near future.
“We are now working as a known cooperative and we contribute towards national development because we pay taxes unlike in the past when we used to evade taxes, not because we wanted to, but because our earnings were too meager,” he says.
Bizimana employs three people in his workshop. His plan is to work together with more youths to ensure they also have hands-on skills to improve their livelihoods.
“My vision is to work hard, expand my activities and do business around the country. I know that this business attracts many people so long as one offers good services,” he said.
Supporting former drug addicts
As a cooperative with members who started from scratch, members believe that anyone can rise from ashes and be an exemplary entrepreneur.
It is in that context that the cooperative has resolved to extend support to former drug addicts who underwent hands-on training and reintegration studies at Iwawa Training and Rehabilitation Centre.
There are over 20 former drug addicts grouped under United for Development Cooperative (UDC).
Pierre Celestin Gipimo, 30, joined the cooperative a year after completing his studies at Iwawa. He says that his life has since transformed.
“I was an addict for more than 10 years and one day I found myself at Iwawa. I thought it was the end of my life, but days later, I got used and acquired some hands-on and soft skills. When we were discharged, I spent a year looking for a job and managed to get average jobs,” he said.
“When I and others decided to join UDC, we received support from our colleagues who helped us cope with the working environment while district authorities supported us to get materials we use here. Now I am an independent person, drugs free and I make between Rwf150,000 and Rwf200,000 per month.”