How informal women savings groups are changing lives in Huye

Three years ago, Vestine Uwimana, a former street vendor, used to traverse Huye town looking for customers, a situation that saw her get involved in many running battles with the authorities to avoid being arrested.
Uwimana sells fish in Ingenzi Market in Huye District. The trader has built a permanent house for her family. / Appolonia Uwanziga
Uwimana sells fish in Ingenzi Market in Huye District. The trader has built a permanent house for her family. / Appolonia Uwanziga

Three years ago, Vestine Uwimana, a former street vendor, used to traverse Huye town looking for customers, a situation that saw her get involved in many running battles with the authorities to avoid being arrested.

As a result, the 38-year-old ‘lived on a cliff’ as she hardly made any profit. However, all that is now history thanks to her decision to join an informal savings group.

 

“I barely made any profits back then, but since joining the cooperative things have improved; we get loans, and you don’t have to worry about the authorities,” Uwimana said.

 

The desire to improve her livelihood drove her into petty trade, but it was proving a hard task to accomplish as a vendor.

 

Previously, the resident of Tumba sector, Huye District used to earn less than Rwf1,000 per day from vending vegetables, which was too little to cater for her basic needs or pay rent.

Joining cooperative

That ended in 2014 when Uwimana decided to join hands with other vulnerable women in Ingenzi Market in the district to form a savings and cooperative group. Named Intambwe (loosely translated as ‘the step’), the group aimed at helping members to get out of poverty through savings mobilisation and investment.

After joining the group, Uwimana was also able to work with colleagues and rented space in the new market.

“Each week, each one of us contributed Rwf500 which we deposited on an account we had opened at a local savings and credit cooperative (SACCO). Later, when deposits had accumulated, we started using the money as a revolving fund to give members small loans to implement short-term projects,” she narrates.

New dawn

Three years down the road, Uwimana is grateful that she dared to dream big and join peers to form a cooperative, saying the move has helped improve life and household income.

“My small business has since grown into something bigger since I joined the savings group and started working from Ingenzi Market.

“I have been able to build my own permanent house worth Rwf15 million and I also pay school fees for my children without any challenges,” Uwimana told The New Times recently in an interview.

Jeanne d’Arc Uwingabire’s fortunes were also to change for the better after she joined the savings group two years ago.

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Uwingabire is a vegetable grower and trader. She has been able to improve her livelihood, thanks to the cooperative movement. / Appolonia Uwanziga

The resident of Cyarwa sector, has already bought land worth Rwf300,000 and is planning to start construction on a new house soon. The mother of two said she used to live a deplorable life before joining Intambwe.

Uwingabire said her livelihood and household income have improved, thanks to the savings culture and better spending habits learnt from the money management programmes conducted by the cooperative.

She said it is important for people to use wisely the little money they have wisely by spending it only on essential things rather than luxuries or items and services one can do without.

“All the people that joined the cooperative around the same period as me are now leading better lives,” Uwingabire added.

Sifa Omar, the president of Intambwe cooperative, said village groups have significantly boosted incomes of members and are instrumental in deepening women’s economic empowerment.

“People’s lives, particularly those of women, are steadily improving as a result of joining cooperatives,” she noted, adding that anyone that aspires to improve their life and income should embrace the savings culture to secure their future.

Omar argued that anyone in formal employment can lose the job anytime, which “makes them vulnerable if they had not been saving.

“But saving a part of your earnings cushions you against any eventualities besides building your deposits and strengthening your financial health,” Omar said.

She added that promoting a savings culture enables adults to create wealth, meet their household needs, invest and also use the accumulated money as collateral to secure more funding.

Savings

According to the Finscope report released last year, 56 per cent of people use other informal savings mechanisms, such as savings groups; 35 per cent of adults claim to save at home or with someone in the household.

The report again shows that 14 per cent of adults do not save, and 10 per cent keep all their savings at home, meaning that they do not use formal or informal savings groups. According to the report savings are essential for the country to ensure financial inclusion.

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