EVERYONE has their happiest day. For Francois Mazimpaka, the day he slept on a bed with a mattress for the first time, was possibly his happiest moment ever.
Showing off his new mattress, the 63-year old man smiled throughout this interview with The New Times, repeatedly turning and pressing it to demonstrate its durability.
“It is so wonderful. I am so happy,” Mazimpaka repeats over and over. “If I could, I would carry everyone here on my back”.
“I used to live in a grass-thatched house and I could not afford such a luxurious product on my own. Recently, I was helped acquire a new decent house and now I can sleep comfortably on a mattress,” Mazimpaka, a resident of Gatovu Cell, Kigembe Sector of Gisagara District, says.
Another resident, Valerie Ahishakiye, of Nyarunyinya, recalled that the last time she slept on a mattress was before the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
“During the Genocide I lost my family and all my property. I remained alone and sunk into poverty”, she narrates.
“After the Genocide, I used to sleep on grass, but thanks to VUP [Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme], I now own and sleep on a mattress. I will always remember this time because it is a significant achievement for me,” the 76-year-old woman says.
The two residents are among 184 people who benefited from a donation of mattresses a week ago. The donation targeted the most vulnerable residents in the area.
Initiated in 2009, VUP is an integrated local development initiative to accelerate poverty eradication, rural growth and social protection.
The programme is one of three flagships of the Economic Development and Poverty Strategy (EDPRS).
It has three components: public works (job-creation through the construction and maintenance of public assets), credit packages (loans foster entrepreneurship opportunities) and direct support (unconditional support to households that do not qualify for public works or credit packages).
The social protection programme currently covers 120 sectors out of the 416 countrywide. Those living in areas covered by the programme say it has helped transform their lives.
Alexis Birindabagabo of Agahabwa Cell in Kigembe Sector, has been employed as part of the public works component.
“There wasn’t any form of income-generating activity in this area until the VUP began. From the money I was paid, I managed to buy three goats and a bicycle. I hope that if the programme continues, I will acquire a cow next year. My life is really improving”, Birindabagabo proudly says.
Jean Damascene Havugimana, another resident, says getting a job under the programme helped him build a house and obtain domestic animals.
“Farming would never have helped me to achieve this because our plots are very small and the production low,” he explained.
The direct support to the most vulnerable people is also having a major impact.
A resident of Kigoma Sector, Huye District, only identified as Rozaliya, has been receiving about Rwf 15,000 per month. She says from that revenue, she is planning to acquire a pig.
“I hope it will help me improve my wellbeing,” says the old woman who does not remember her birth date.
Local authorities maintain that there has been tremendous improvement in the livelihoods of people ever since VUP was introduced.
Huye District Mayor, Eugene Kayiranga Muzuka, observed that the contribution of the programme in the lives of rural residents is tremendous.
“VUP is helping residents access medical services and is improving infrastructure like water, electricity and health centres. It is contributing to the improvement of people’s social wellbeing through the money which is being injected in the community in various ways,” he noted.
Another impact of the programme is that the money that goes out to rural communities has seen a number of projects started. Through small loans, residents have been able to start income-generating activities, most of them livestock farming.
Pascal Siboniyo, a resident of Kigembe Sector, acquired a loan which he says has helped improve his agricultural production.
“I acquired a loan of Rwf 100,000, started cultivating vegetables and, as days went by, my production kept increasing,” he says.
“I managed to buy about 20 goats and a cow, which are also producing, while I go on with my agricultural activities. Currently, I have manure that I use to boost my production and all this has transformed my life.”
However, the main benefit is behavioural change evident in the rural zones.
Francois Hakizimana, a VUP programme manager in Kigembe, says residents are diversifying their activities and no longer fear to acquire loans.
“People are now designing projects. Other than agriculture, they also get involved in business, art craft and other domains,” Hakizimana says.
“However, the biggest change is demonstrated in the way people use their money. In the past, many of them used to spend their money recklessly, wasting it in beer or indulging in other non-productive things,” he says.
“But now, this is changing and many have started embracing the saving culture. Working with financial institutions, like the saving and credit cooperatives [SACCOs], has helped to improve their social status”.
Hakizimana observes that about Rwf 300 million was invested in the sector through public works, direct support and loans to people wishing to start income-generating projects.
Still, though it is obvious that the Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme is benefiting communities living in rural areas, there is a common consensus that the population needs to sustain the achievements they have registered.
Donatile Uwingabiye, the Vice Mayor in charge of social affairs in Gisagara District, advises residents not to settle for what they have already achieved, but rather work harder for more wealth.
“We must strive for better living conditions, a decent housing and so on. What VUP cannot give us, let’s do our best and achieve it on our own”, Uwingabiye told residents of Kigembe Sector recently.
“When you sleep, dream about God but don’t forget to dream about how to get more money to improve your social wellbeing”.