As a child Josephine Niyonsaba was no stranger to hardships. Growing up in Save sector, Gisagara District, Niyonsaba faced a trail of hardships forcing her to drop out of school in primary six.
With the future looking bleak and desperate to help her siblings stay in school, in 2014 she left her village to search for work in Kigali as a housemaid.
“When I dropped out of school, I never lost hope, I knew I could still be someone someday,” she says.
The 21-year-old worked as a housemaid for two years. While she worked, she heard of an organisation that fights for the rights of house helps- Association for the Defense of Human Rights, Lasting Development and Well-Being Family (ADBEF). She later joined the organisation and life has never been the same since.
Through ADBEF, she learnt how to save, and that’s how she managed to get capital to start up a small business, selling secondhand shoes.
“We were also trained to be confident. Before joining the organisation, I thought maids were failures in life but after the training, I started seeing myself differently. I got ideas on how to plan for my future and I can say I am a very different person now. I know my rights; I got training on sex education and also got advice to join cooperatives,” Niyonsaba says.
With her savings, she bought pigs and a cow which are keeping her mother busy back home.
She might not be a millionaire but Niyonsaba believes she has taken strides and that she is on the right path to success.
“It’s not like I have reached the level I want, but I know I will. This year, my goal is to construct a decent house for my parents. Later, I plan on opening a shop to widen my income base,” she says happily.
Her mother Clementine Mushyimiyimana says that Niyonsaba is a blessing to their family. Fears of her turning wild after coming to Kigali faded when she realised Niyonsaba was the focused girl she had raised her to be.
“I was scared that men would take advantage of my daughter in Kigali and that she would end up in trouble but it wasn’t the case. She is different and has become a blessing to our family. She is looking out for her siblings and is paying for their education. I have faith that my daughter will even achieve even more,” Mushyimiyimana says.
Joseph Mugabukwari is another house help who will stop at nothing to succeed. He too has been groomed by ADBEF.
The 23-year-old managed to build a house back home and is his father’s pride and joy. He too attributes his success to the guidance he got from ADBEF.
“I have learnt a lot from the organisation; the fact that I started saving and bought a cow and later, constructed a house is something my parents are very proud of,” he says.
At first, he thought there was plenty of time to plan for the future and used his salary the way he pleased, but all that changed.
“I appreciate ADBEF for showing me what’s important and helping me light my future. I may not earn that much, but it has given me things I never dreamed I would have. I have a sense of direction,” he says.
His father, Faustin Ntawiheba, says Mugabukwari was surprised when he learned about his son’s achievements.
“I was actually surprised at how responsible my son had become because he was into worldly things but he has turned out great. I am so happy and proud of him. I wish him the best and I thank ADBEF for guiding him in everything,” Ntawiheba says.
How much does a maid earn that would enable them put up a house or even small business, one may ask. But with a savings culture, anything is possible. Take Josiane Nabakujje, for example, who worked as a maid for seven years and realised that that was not the future she wanted for herself.
She wondered time and again if her destiny was to be a house help for the rest of her life, and the picture wasn’t appeasing, she knew she had to do something about it.
“Besides the limitations that came with the job, the money was too little and for the years I spent working, I barely had a thing to my name. It was ADBEF that rescued me and taught me how to save,” Nabakujije narrates.
The 28-year-old now owns a stand in Mutangana Market in Nyabugogo where she sells fruits. She rents her own house and manages to save money on a daily basis through cooperatives.
“I want to expand my business and see that I get to yet another level. I also want young women to understand that even with the little they earn they can actually save and do something productive. I used to earn Rwf12,000 and would only use Rwf2000 and save Rwf10,000. It wasn’t easy but I now see its worth,” she says.
Ange Nyirantenzimana has also done something from her job as a house help. With her savings, she bought goats and a cow for her mother to start farming. She takes pride in the fact that she has two accounts; a savings account and one for daily expenses.
“I am proud that I can actually help out my parents and also take care of myself. Even though I have managed to acquire all this, I still need to do more, I want to buy more cows and may be expand my business,” she says.
Her mother, Merita Ingabire, testifies to watching her transform into someone responsible.
“She has been a role model to us and has saved us from poverty. The fact that she hasn’t picked any bad habits in the two years she has been in Kigali shows that she is on the right path and I’m happy with her,” Ingabire says.
Lyhotely Ndagijimana, the founder of ADBEF, says that it’s really fulfilling to see young people achieve great things, regardless of their background and education level.
“What we are witnessing is encouraging and it shows that what we are doing is creating an impact and it has given us courage and morale to work harder so as to make a bigger impact,” he says.
“Actions speak louder than words, we want their colleagues to see and learn from them. We wouldn’t have done this without the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),” Ndagijimana added.
Life isn’t always peachy; some of these people have been tapped by poverty’s hand but it is evident that a little guidance can actually make a difference.