The infamous Impala Bar, formerly of Remera, near the airport, is better remembered for its commercial sex workers, but now it has a brighter connotation for these former ladies of the night.
They chide their past and enjoy a better life after they formed a cleaning association, ‘Umuhuza Mw ‘Isuku’ which is now a cooperative.
In 2007, Esperance Umurungi, who is in-charge of development in Umushumba Mwiza Village, approached the women to sell them the idea of forming an association and stop their business.
She did that shortly before the closure of the Impala bar in Nyarugunga Sector, commonly known as Kucya Mutzig.
“It was not an easy task to convince them to abandon what they were doing and start this activity of collecting garbage from homes,” recalls Umurungi.
The ladies would recycle the garbage into fertilisers which they would sell.
A few months after the women had started their activities, however, they were stopped by authorities, who accused them of destroying the environment with smoke.
Out of 80 members who had started the association, only 32 remained while others opted to go back into the sex trade.
“But we approached the sector authorities (Nyarugunga) and luckily enough, they contracted us to clean the main roads,” Umurungi recalls.
Each of the members now earns Rwf 18,200 per month as part of the contract with the sector.
“I am like a re-born person…it is a miracle to me. I achieved in the last two years more than I ever achieved in the seven years I worked as a prostitute,” says Claire Mbabazi, one of the members.
The 28-year old mother of two, now has three cows, which she bought from her earnings from the cooperative.
“To leave prostitution is a decision only very few can make,” Mbabazi explains. “
She enrolled herself in a hair dressing school which helped her to secure a job as a hair dresser, a job she does alongside the cooperative activities.
To 46-year old Donatila Mukanyirigira, “life was hell when I was still selling my body. Sometimes clients would refuse to pay and at times beat me.”
She is now a devoted Christian.
“We lost our dignity and respect from other people. We had lost hope,” adds Mukanyirigira.
After forming the association, the women went for HIV screening. None of them tested positive.
Last week, the cooperative was awarded a cash prize of Rwf 1million after it emerged the best across the country for its innovativeness, creation of jobs and offering of support to its members.
In 2009, the cooperative also emerged among the top active groups, winning another Rwf 1million courtesy of Kigali city.
The cooperative is known for beautifying the Remera-Kanombe road where women tend all the gardens as their support to Kigali city.
The group, however, cannot access loans from banks due to lack of security.
“This is the major challenge we are currently facing,” says Umurungi.
She calls on the authorities to help the cooperative in acquiring loans to enable them to create more jobs for those who are still engaged in prostitution.