Behind the whirring sound of 11 tailoring machines inside a small makeshift workshop made of iron sheets is a story of perseverance and compassion.
Over 20 mothers who have lived the better parts of their lives in uncompromising indigence and wretchedness, finally found a sanctuary to renew their hopes for the future in this place.
Annociatta Mukanyabyenda is only 34 years old, and estranged from her husband. When they separated some years back, the husband left her with four children to take care of. With no work to fulfill her maternal responsibilities, her life became miserable. She also didn’t have anyone to talk to share her pain, someone who was going through a similar experience, until Mama Rwanda project came to her rescue.
Mama Rwanda is a project that was founded early last year by Bertrand Ishimwe, also the founder of Irembo Organisation, to help underprivileged women engage in sustainable activities to provide for their basic needs.
Ishimwe says he hatched the idea when he was in Senior Six at Lycee de Kigali. At the time, he was running a project where about 45 vulnerable children were being sponsored in different schools spread around Kigali to go about their education without financial or material hitches.
“These children were being supported by foreigners. But I thought about what would happen if these foreigners decided to withhold their support or pulled out. What would I do with them?
“This is how Mama Rwanda project was born - to provide the mothers of the children with training so that they can develop valuable skills to help them support their families,” says Ishimwe.
Irembo Organisation currently runs two projects for women. Sewing Women Project is one through which unemployed women learn sewing techniques in order to produce good quality products with a unique African touch. The women sell these products and earn some income.
25 women are currently involved in this project. They are being taught by two women who teach them two days per week, four hours each day.
The second project is called Agaseke Women Project – where unemployed women learn the necessary techniques to make traditional Rwandan baskets, mats and derivatives in order to produce good quality products which are sold.
17 women are currently involved in this project. They are also being taught by a woman who is skilled in the field.
The products are exhibited at Irembo Shop in Kacyiru.
Recently, Irembo organised an event called Christmas Market in which the women sold some of the products they’ve been producing at the centre to raise funds to help them send their children to school the coming year.
“I thought that it was not a good idea overburdening the children’s sponsors with everything. Some of the mothers have already gained enough skills and the products they’ve produced were put on sale to support in the education of the children. Through such events, these women are slowly becoming self-reliant,” says Ishimwe.
The sewing classes are held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and since there are not enough machines, the women come in two shifts - from 8am to 12:30 pm and from 1:30 to 5pm.
Ishimwe, a former street boy, says that the major challenge they face is lack of enough facilities like tailoring machines.
‘‘We now have 25 mothers and only 11 machines. It means that the women train and work in shifts. I have to pay two trainers for the two shifts, whereas if we had enough machines, we would only engage one teacher,” he says.
He also decries the high cost of material, saying that they have to spend a lot of money buying these materials but sometimes it takes them time to receive funds from their donors and well-wishers.
The women come together on Thursdays and Sunday to share their experiences and bond. Meetings are always held in the late evenings.
Elyse Maria Dusabe, a 34-year-old widow and mother of four says, “I’ve lived a miserable life since my husband died 12 years ago. My mind has been preoccupied, thinking of how I’m going to deal with the future. My four children haven’t had an education to insure their future. It’s this sewing project that has thrown me a lifeline because I know I’m now getting enough training which is going to help me take care of my family. And one of my children also now has the chance to go to school. I’m now happy.”
She says, before, the family had some property that she used to depend on for her basic needs. But when her in-laws decided to divide the property, she was left with a small portion that couldn’t sustain her and her children.
Life was unbearable but now, she’s seeing a flicker of hope through her tailoring training.
Epiphanie Nyiramana, 44, says her husband died during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, leaving her with the unbearable burden of raising the children. She says she has been doing odd jobs, like washing people’s clothes and houses to support her large family.
“Mama Rwanda has come at a time when I had lost all hope. It’s a new beginning for me because I can now see light at the end of a tunnel,” Nyiramana says.
Annociatta Mukansengiyuma, a beneficiary of the project and one of the women trainers says that so far, seven women have managed to get enough skills and they can now stand on their own. They are now designing clothes that are being displayed and sold at the Irembo shop.
She adds that despite the fact that the mothers also have their children to take care of; it’s their will and determination to receive the skills that keeps them going.
“Since they train on specific days, this gives them some days off to go and look after their families. Besides, we’ve started selling some of these products and we always share what we have as a family,’ Mukansengiyuma says.