Rwandan women today have embraced activities that were historically considered masculine and they are now gaining decent earnings. Brick-making has always been a male dominated business, given the mechanics involved.
Women Today’s Doreen Umutesi met with members of Kayonza Twihangire Imirimo Cooperative (KATWICO), literally translated as ‘Kayonza District Job Creators Cooperative, an initiative that makes bricks, to find out the source of their inspiration.
Angelique Mukankubana, the president of the cooperative, narrated with joy how they embraced the grubby but lucrative business.
“In 2010 we started the brick-making business after we were trained by Women for Women International (WFWI). The trainings involved educating us on family planning, commercial agriculture, crafting and how to start up a business. That is when eighteen of us decided to take on the business,” Mukankubana said.
Women for Women International, has for the last 16 years, supported over 56,000 Rwandan women throughout their yearlong training programmes. The trainings are aimed at helping women sustain an income and be at the forefront of changing their families and communities.
“We do everything ourselves. We get the clay from the swamp and then soak the clay in a ditch with water for a day and a half. We then get the clay from the ditch and start making bricks. We then place the bricks somewhere to dry, after which we burn them. Each woman in the cooperative makes at least 100 bricks per day,” Mukankubana disclosed.
The 43-year-old Mukankubana also said that they decided to form KATWICO in 2012 to easily manage their finances.
These women work in a valley in a swampy area because it is where they can dig the clay easily and access the water for making the bricks.
The distance from Kayonza town to where the women work from is about 15 kilometres. The road is dusty during the dry season and quite slippery during the rainy season.
“We are accustomed to the place and luckily none of us has fallen sick in the three years we have worked here. We leave our homes at about 5:30am and get here around 7:00am and immediately get to work so that we can go back home early and take care of the children when they get back from school. We also have days off in order to spend more time at home. Each member is entitled to two days a week,” Mukankubana stated.
Although Mukakubana only completed primary school, she has never gotten the chance to continue with her secondary level. She got some training in tailoring but ever since she started making bricks, opportunities are rolling in.
“This month, I will complete a six-month-training course called Goldman Sachs Entrepreneurship Program at the School of Finance and Banking (SFB). We are trained on how to seek market for our products and financial bookkeeping. With this training, I believe our brick-making business will improve,” she said.
She added, “Even though initially brick-making was a man’s job, when we started we saw how profitable it was and were inspired to keep going. The main problem with some women, especially when taking on male dominated ventures, is that they undermine the jobs. There are some women I invited to train and they boldly said that they can’t stand touching in the mud all day. But those that have come have seen their lives improve. At the end of the day women should know that every job can generate profits, you just have to be patient and get rid of the mindset that specific jobs are for men only.”
The soft spoken Mukankubana further said that when some members of the cooperative get pregnant they are given time off given the nature of their work. But they also get the same benefits as the other members when sharing the profits attained from the sale of the bricks.
She said, “We have achieved a lot. For example, we are the ones who made the bricks which were used to construct the recently opened Women’s Opportunity Centre (WOC) in Kayonza town. Our lives have changed and we are gradually learning how to market ourselves.”
The Women’s Opportunity Centre which opened on June 28, aims at improving the socio-economic conditions for women, families, and the community.
The WOC offers training courses and opportunities for employment and income generation activities for women.
The training courses include financial literacy training, business mentoring, agri-business support, access to financial services, and support to cooperatives. Social development training includes health and nutrition, early childhood development, and men’s leadership and engagement. The activities of WOC are likely to reach over 28,000 women, families, and communities in Kayonza District.
The inauguration of the centre was dedicated to the memory of the late Aloisea Inyumba, the former Minister for Gender and Family Promotion, who was also a member of the Advisory Board of Women for Women International (WfWI). Thirty year old Rebbecca Muberarugo, also a member of KATWICO, said that her first day of making bricks was not without challenges.
“It was tiring because I had to push a wheelbarrow full of clay around and water. Pounding the clay was quite challenging too. While pounding the clay, you could cut yourself with a stone. But now with my two year experience, I rarely encounter such things.”
“The first day was challenging but with the benefits involved, I had to come back the following day. However, some of my friends stayed for a month or two and left because they were impatient. I didn’t have a job besides digging and cultivating crops for other people and was paid peanuts. But today, I have my own piece of land for cultivation and I also employ people. I now have enough money to look after myself and family,” Muberarugo said.
When asked what her husband thinks of her embracing the brick- making business, the mother of one said, “He is happy. We are collectively improving our lives as a family and the benefits are visible. We as a family are planning to build our own house and stop renting.”