From grass to grace; Patricia Mukamazimpaka‘s journey

Patricia Mukamazimpaka isn’t what one would call an educated woman. But her confidence has taken her places. She has travelled to places where she couldn’t even speak the language. She is a graduate of the Women for Women International Rwanda’s Women of Economic Empowerment programme  specialising in crafts. “I was so unfortunate to lose my mother when I was still so young. I was raised by my grandmother who also died when I was eight. I never met my father since no one knew who he was. After my grandmother’s death, my maternal uncle took on the responsibility of taking care of me and that is when I experienced hell on earth. He always called me a bastard,” Mukamazimpaka narrates.

Patricia Mukamazimpaka isn’t what one would call an educated woman. But her confidence has taken her places. She has travelled to places where she couldn’t even speak the language. She is a graduate of the Women for Women International Rwanda’s Women of Economic Empowerment programme  specialising in crafts.

“I was so unfortunate to lose my mother when I was still so young. I was raised by my grandmother who also died when I was eight. I never met my father since no one knew who he was. After my grandmother’s death, my maternal uncle took on the responsibility of taking care of me and that is when I experienced hell on earth. He always called me a bastard,” Mukamazimpaka narrates. 

Born in Cyangungu in 1976, Mukamazimpaka got married, but, sadly her husband died in 2003 and she was left to raise their three children alone.

“I’m happy that my children are in school. I take care of three other orphans. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t go to school, but I have made it my life’s goal to educate my children so that they can have a great future,” she expresses.

She adds, “I ran away from home in Cyangungu after my uncle destroyed our house, which then collapsed on us. My uncle’s sister, who always took care of us was crippled after that incident. The villagers collected money for us, to come to Kigali and get jobs as house helpers. I came with two cousins. On reaching Kigali we didn’t know where to go and we were left with just RWF 30. We knocked at people‘s gates in Kimicyanga and only my male cousin got a job. For two days, my other cousin and I slept in trenches until we saw an old woman who had a small bar. She took us in and promised to get us jobs,” she remembers.

She did all sorts of jobs ranging from picking coffee to washing people‘s clothes.

“When my husband died, I feared that my children would go days without food if I didn’t work. But in 2005, Women for Women International came to villages registering poor women to undergo training. Unfortunately I was not registered because I didn’t have any documents showing that I was poor because I was not born in that village (Kimicyanga). So I walked to the Women for Women offices where I narrated my problems and they let me train with the others for a year,” Mukamazimpaka reveals.

Women for Women International programs in Rwanda include direct financial aid, rights awareness classes, job-skills training and emotional support. The one-year program for Rwandan women involves addressing the challenges and demands experienced hence, offering vocational training that helps women earn an income and support themselves.

Some of the programs include Commercial Integrated Farming Initiative (CIFI) — teaching women to make an income off the land with organic farming techniques geared towards commercial production. Tailoring gives women the training they need to operate sewing machines and knit clothes. They also make jewellery, plait hair and make bricks.

“I specialised in jewellery and this has been a profitable business for me. Today, my life has completely changed. I have been to places I never thought I would go given the fact that I didn’t go to school.

For instance, I travel to Kenya or Uganda on a weekly basis yet I don’t know English and this is the language most commonly used in these countries. You don’t need to go to school to be confident, you just have to believe in yourself and trust that you are capable,” she expressed.

She is currently a craft merchant in Rwanda. She obtains them from Uganda and Kenya. She also has a stand in one of the crafts shops in town. 

“I advise my fellow women not to undermine any job because everything you do can pay off in the long run. Today, when I look at myself I’m happy and I have money saved on my account - something I never thought would be possible. In a day, I can earn about RWF 50,000 from selling crafts,” she says.

“I advise women carrying babies on their backs and begging on the streets to come and I train them on how to make jewellery from different materials such as beads, papers and cloth. I was trained for free so I also offer free training; we need to uplift one another economically,” Mukamazimpaka politely encourages.

 “I spend most of my leisure time with my family but I also teach my family and friends how to make craft jewellery.”

I’m grateful for the knowledge I attained from the Women for Women International program because today I’m changing the lives of my friends in amicable ways,” she ends. 

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