Striving against the stigma of being widowed and poor

Magdalene Nyirabagenzi is a 46-year-old widow who became extremely poor after the death of her husband during the 1994 Genocide against the Tusti.  She has since been a resident of Nyarucyama Village, Kiyumba cell, Nyamagabe district in Southern Rwanda.  For several years, life was difficult for Nyirabagenzi and her three daughters. She was jobless and had no land to cultivate.
Nyirabagenzi receives a small loan from her association. The NewTimes/ L. Nakayima
Nyirabagenzi receives a small loan from her association. The NewTimes/ L. Nakayima

Magdalene Nyirabagenzi is a 46-year-old widow who became extremely poor after the death of her husband during the 1994 Genocide against the Tusti.

She has since been a resident of Nyarucyama Village, Kiyumba cell, Nyamagabe district in Southern Rwanda.

For several years, life was difficult for Nyirabagenzi and her three daughters. She was jobless and had no land to cultivate.

“My husband died 17 years ago leaving me with three daughters. I was his third wife and shortly after his death we the wives and his children shared a small peace of land that he owned,” explains Nyirabagenzi.

“My three daughters got their share, a tiny potion of land that is inefficient for farming. I used half an acre for all my agricultural activities,” she adds.

Nyirabagenzi practiced mixed farming, which worsened production from her inherited potion of land. She planted coffee, beans, maize, and cassava for years.  Later, the land lost its fertility, greatly affecting the quality of her harvest.

Coupled with being homeless, earth was the worst place to be, for Nyirabagenzi. Her deceased husband’s house was inherited by the first wife, making Nyirabagenza construct a small temporary grass thatched house, on her potion of land.

“It hurts when your children look up to you but there isn’t much you can do, to guarantee their survival. They often fell sick, due to poor conditions of living, our grass house leaked when it rained,” recalls Nyirabagenzi.

Getting scholastic material for her girls was another hustle.

“I spent days tilling my neighbours gardens for less that 500 francs,” she recollects.

Adding Nyirabagenzi to the list of the most vulnerable residents of Kirambi was a starting point for her life’s transformation. The government in collaboration with an NGO, whose name she doesn’t remember, constructed for her, a three-roomed house with iron sheets.

“By God’s grace we got a house to live in, but our poverty problem lingered. I saw my children go hungry so many times. We were limited to a single meal each day,” she says.

First signs of Hope

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in partnership with Caritas introduced a new project in Nyamagabe District, that helped vulnerable farmers by increasing their household food security and savings. Under the ‘Diverse Livelihoods for Coffee Growers’ project that granted loans to farmers, standards of living changed. The 70 vulnerable smallholder farmers to be helped were selected by Caritas and Nyirabagenzi was not left out. With a total of 70 coffee trees, Nyirabagenzi saw her future getting brighter.

They were organized in 30 saving and lending groups. The groups were trained in modern farming techniques and the use of organic manure in the small pieces of land available, in order to get bigger harvests.

Nyirabagenzi’s group worked pretty well, they saved all they could. The savings accumulated, members would contribute Rwf500 to Rwf2,000 toward savings. Sooner than later, small profit loans were granted, to the most fragile members.

For Nyirabagenzi, ‘Tuzamurane’, her group has aided improvement in innovative ways to increase her household revenue through a loan.

“I joined Tuzamurane group in January 2011 but have already registered a lot of achievements,” she joyfully says.

“Our group isn’t at the stage of lending members big sums of money but we are doing well. I am able to pay school fees for my daughters, who are in secondary school today,” adds Nyirabagenzi.

Nyirabagenzi owes her success also to free trainings on modern agriculture by Caritas. She says her family’s nutrition status has been improved through her emphasis on vegetable gardens.

“When I take the harvest to the market, I am thankful that manure and trainings were provided by CRS. Look at how the small potion of land got me to bigger things,” Nyirabagenzi proudly says.

Dusabe, another member of Tuzamurane explains that the money from the harvests is used to lease more land which the group members can use to grow more crops.

“We started with only one demonstration plot of less than an acre. The income generated through selling extra crops has helped us lease four more gardens and one coffee plantation,” adds Dusabe. This is a big solution to lack of land for cultivation.

CRS gave all members of the formed groups small domestic animals such as goats, pigs, hens and rabbits to provide organic manure.

Jean Batiste Mukeshimana, from another group, ‘Abateranankunga’ confirmed that Nyirabagenzi’s life was greatly improved by the small associations.

“We no longer know her as the begging woman, she can buy whatever she needs,” says Mukeshimana.  

Flavia Nyirabaturanyi, chairperson of Tuzamurane group said that saving and Internal Lending Cooperatives have created new bonds and unity between individuals and has strengthened joint decision-making.

“The sky is the limit,” says Nyirabagenzi, as she strives for greater success.

lillianean@yahoo.com

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