The Government of Rwanda is on the verge of reaching its Millennium Development Goals and the youth have been pivotal in reaching this milestone.
Young people around the country have been encouraged to come together and form groups as a way of fighting poverty in the country.
One of the most effective projects to impact the lives of the young people is the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) which was started by Rwanda Youth Parliament (PAJER) with the support of Plan Rwanda in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.
PAJER is a nonprofit organization founded in January 2000 by a group of Rwandan youth inspired by a spirit of patriotism to build peace, unity and reconciliation through honest and frank dialogue and the promotion of integrated development of the Rwandan population in general and that of Rwandan youth in particular.
“The idea of the founders was based on the terrible history of the country characterized by atrocities and poor governance practices.
Thus the Rwandese youth today and the population in general need a peaceful society characterized by respect of human rights, mutual confidence, unity, reconciliation and sensitization on self reliance and active participation in integrated sustainable development of their country,” says Patrick Karangwa, the Executive Director of PAJER.
“By training youth throughout the country in critical thinking skills, independent research, integrated developing solutions to current societal problems, and the effective argumentation of these proposed solutions in a debate format, their needs are met to ensure sustainability and self reliance,” adds Karangwa.
The Rwanda Youth Parliament partnered with Plan Rwanda to form groups that save money in the form of shares. The savings are invested in a loan fund, from which members can borrow money and must repay the interest.
Their primary purpose is to provide simple savings and loan facilities in a community that does not have access to formal financial services. Loans can also provide a form of self-insurance to members, particularly if they are supplemented by a social fund to provide small but important grants and no-cost loans to members in distress.
Jacqueline Nyarakira is a 20-year-old student who benefited from the project.
“I had lost hope in my life. I did not know what to do since I had not gone to school. I joined this project and got a small loan.
I started selling wheat and I bought a goat. Today, I have a bull and I am planning to buying a cow,” she says.
Vianney Karalare is another happy youth who has no regrets about joining the project.
“I got a loan and bought iron sheets for my house. I also bought myself a mattress and now I live like a King,” he says.
Emmanuel Ntagungira, the Programmes Director at the Rwanda Youth parliament said the youth are able to strike a balance between creating a useful pool of capital within their communities. Associations meet one day a week as the members agree.
“Associations are autonomous and self managing, basing their system of governance, policies, and operating procedures on a written constitution,” he said.
Ntagungira also emphasized the importance of accountability where all transactions are carried out at meetings in the presence of all members. Money collected is stored under lock and key in a cashbox.
“This promotes transparency and accountability and prevents corruption due to unauthorized cash movement and the risk of record tampering. The cashbox has three keys each of which is kept by different members of the General Assembly,” Ntagungira explains.
“The cycle of savings and lending is time bound. At the end of an agreed period, the accumulated saving and service charge earnings are shared out among the members.
“This is critical for transparency and the confidence of all members. A cycle must not last for more than one year to share out.
All members have an individual passbook. This is necessary to permit varying rates of savings and to track member’s loans and liabilities,” Ntagungira further elaborates.
In February 2011, the first bunch of youth graduated from the VSLA project and 55 percent of the graduates were girls trained in entrepreneurship.
The graduation that took place at Kiramuruzi in the Eastern Province was attended by over 2000 youths. The Chief Guest was the Minister of Youth, Protais Mitali.
Mitali applauded encouraged people to start solving their problems and the youth should be at the forefront of these solutions.
“The youth are the pillars of the nation and their efforts are important in nation building,” Mitali said.
Currently the project covers the districts of Kiziguro, Murambi and Kabalore.
Olive Bohojengedo is a 32-year-old mother with four children who has benefited from this project.
“I was illiterate and I had so many challenges as a single mother. I was taught saving skills and today, my children go to the best schools here and are very healthy,” she said.
Within two years 1800 youths will be enrolled in the project as a way of fighting poverty.