Inside a Women’s Opportunity Centre in Kayonza District, Grace Muteteri, 45, is seated on a traditional mat weaving a pot-shaped basket using Eragrostis variabilis (a grass locally called “inshinge”), and fibers.
The mother of six, a resident of Mukarange Sector explains that the pot serves decorative functions such as in a residential house, but also is used to properly keep easily breakable utensils such as glasses and clay-made plates.
Upon completion, Muteteri said the pot costs Rwf40,000; but noted that there are others which are sold at Rwf20,000 each, depending on the size.
“I can make this mat within two weeks, and sell it at Rwf40,000,” she said.
She testified that such skills constitute the source of her livelihood.
“Before engaging in these activities, I was a destitute. But, thanks to the revenues from these products, I managed to pay school fees for my children. One has now finished secondary school the other is in senior five,” she told Sunday Times.
“I was a casual labourer farmer for other people in order to get food for survival,” she said noting that she now easily takes care of her children.
“My goal is to see my children complete school and lead a decent life. That can be a major step to see a woman managing to pay for the schools of her children without any other sponsor,” she said.
She said that she can make about Rwf100,000 per month from her works.
Muteteri is one of the beneficiaries of Women’s Opportunity Centre, which was set up in 2003 under the auspices of Women for Women International, an organization that supports the most marginalized women to earn and save money, as well as improve health and well-being.
Inside the centre, one can see several handcraft products on display. They include baskets, beads (necklaces, bracelets), bags, decoration items.
Monique Mukarukwaya, the president of the group of some 37 women at the centre said that before “we were women who could not manage to solve domestic problems in terms of need or to sustain their families.
Each woman makes handcrafts and on the sales of each product, some money is deducted to constitute common fund for the cooperative.
“Each woman saves Rwf750 per week on the sale of each product. That money helps us in our daily lives,” she said.
She said that tourists heading to Akagera National Park like and buy some of their products.
Challenges that need addressing
Though the women’s products are at the level of being sold on the international market, they lack the means to tap into that export fair.
In addition, the wicker products, and dye used in their products are often bought from Uganda and Kenya; and the women said that they are now buying them from those who import them as they do not yet have enough capacity to import them in large quantities.
The women’s crafts are in line with Rwanda’s cultural tourism whereby made-in Rwanda products are exhibited to reflect the Rwanda culture and values.
The tourism marketing division manager at Rwanda Development Linda Mutesi, said, last week, during Tembera u Rwanda – travel Rwanda - activity to Eastern said RDB supports and will continue to help the women have their products as visible as possible to buyers especially tourists so that they earn more profits from their efforts.
Fostering unity and reconciliation
Mukarukwaya said that the members include Genocide survivors, wives whose husbands are imprisoned due to their participation in the Genocide against the Tutsi; and the Rwandan women returnees after 1994, as well as other needy women in the area.
“Each woman had their own problem. So, we come together, discussed our problems, began living normally and we are now working together in harmony,” she said.
“There is no ethnic divisionism amongst us. No one even thinks about that. We have become united Rwandan woman. We are women who complement one another, who work together to achieve our common improved livelihoods, looking forward to developing their country,” she said.