NGOMA - Albert Maniraguha, is a 20-year-old HIV/Aids orphan. Despite having lost his parents in 2008 at the age of 17 years, he is one of the many Orphans and Vulnerable Children who have benefited from the Catholic Relief Service projects.
Like any other child, Maniraguha, a resident of Zaza village in Ngoma district had dreams. His dreams however faded when his parents succumbed to HIV.
“I was only in primary five when my father died. I was forced to drop out of school the following year because my older brother, who had taken over the role of taking care of me and my three sisters, did not have financial means to support our education” explained Maniraguha.
Maniraguha said his elder brother struggled day and night to make ends meet, but to no avail.
“We sometimes ate food without salt. At times we put salt in hot water to serve as sauce for eating immature cassava from our small garden,” he said.
The same year his parents passed, Maniraguha joined the bicycle taxi operators in his village.
He said: “This was the only way to financially help his brother and sisters. I rod an old bicycle that belonged to my late father even though I was too young for the business. I did not have enough energy to carry passengers. The hilly nature of our village made the job difficult but I had no choice.”
“I earned Rwf400 a day and it wasn’t enough to buy some of the household essentials like salt, washing soap and paraffin for our small candle.”
With the help of Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC), a project that operates under Catholic Relief Service in the district, Maniraguha managed to set up a small shop in his village.
“By selling sugar, salt, soap and other household essentials, I have managed to lease one acre of land on which I grow rice” the 20-year-old said.
Like other parts of the country, Zaza village is a home to many child headed families, most of whom are victims of HIV/AIDS and the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi.
However, Catholic Relief Service (CRS), through its USAID funded project for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, has helped children and their families in Zaza village since 2004.
They have provided support in nutrition, education, health, psychosocial support, child protection and economic strengthening.
Residents in Maniraguha village were educated, supported and encouraged to form saving groups each containing 25-30 members.
“I was one of the pioneer members of “Terimbere” SILC group, which was created in 2006. The bicycle taxi business helped me to earn the Rwf1,000 monthly contributions to the group” explained Maniraguha.
Monthly contributions of Rwf1,000-1500 from the 30 members of the each SILC group in the community, has created funds to support lending to other members. The loans are later repaid after a given time with a small interest.
Group members have monthly meetings to decide on procedures for lending and repaying the loans.
A few months after joining Terimbere SILC group, Maniraguha was given an initial loan of Rwf20,000.
“I used the money to join a group of residents who were jointly contributing money to bring electricity in their houses.”
“Originally, electricity poles from Ngoma town passed through our village to the nearby town center. A few of us jointly contributed money to buy electric wires and finally got electricity connected to our houses,” he proudly said.
A few months later, the young lad rented a television set and a DVD player from one of his neighbours and started up a film show business.
“I made use of the opportunity of being one of the few people with electricity in my village.”
“I built a wooden and banana leaf enclosed space in our compound and used it as a video hall. This was a new business in the village. Many people came to watch movies and each paid Rwf50 per movie and I earned Rwf2000 a day that helped me to pay back the Rwf20,000 loan.”
The 20-year-old orphan borrowed another Rwf40,000 that he used to set up a small income generating business in his bedroom.
“I had saved Rwf30,000 from the film show business and with another SILC loan of Rwf40,000 I started a storage business,” he said.
Maniraguha now uses part of his bedroom as a store for household essentials, sells soap, sugar, paraffin, matchboxes and salt to his neighbor.
From these business ventures, Maniraguha has managed to financially support his household.
“I expect my income to greatly increase after I harvest the rice. With the money I will collect from the rice harvest, continuous savings from my business and another Rwf50,000 loan I will get from SILC, I expect to buy my own small piece of land from where I will maturely get married,” he said.
“I now have hope for a better future,” he added.
Pontien Maniraguha, the OVC project manager at CRS, Rwanda said that, “savings and internal lending groups build and create new bonds and understanding between individuals, strengthen joint decision making and joint involvement in development activities for the communities as well as building strong social cohesion within group members, thus supporting unity and reconciliation among Rwandans.”
He said that by December 2009, the Orphans and Vulnerable Community (OVC) program had initiated a total of 50 SILC groups in Kibungo, Eastern Province and Huye in Southern Province.
“SILC is a way of educating and bringing orphans and vulnerable children together to jointly fight against poverty,” the project manager said.
The USAID funded OVC project also supports orphans and vulnerable children who are both infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, street children, child headed families and other highly vulnerable households occupied by children.