Donatille Mukamanzi’s life was, until recently, portrayed by begging and working odd jobs for survival.
The 48-year-old woman, a mother of four from Kinigi Sector in Musanze District, was one of hundreds of former historically marginalised persons around the National Volcanoes Park.
“I lived a very humble life that I shared with many other historically marginalised people. We had lived in poor thatched huts that leaked whenever it rained,” Mukamanzi recalls.
“Our children had never attended school, we were ignorant in terms of any kind of development,” she says
Mukamanzi says after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the government extended a hand and relocated them from forests to live in rural settlements with fellow citizens.
Until then, Mukamanzi had only had feeble ideas of what it is like to spend a night under a house built with iron sheets.
“Although we were not given land, we were exposed to wider market where we could work for others to earn a living. We were encouraged to take our children to school too,” she says.
Mukamanzi, however, says the challenge in their fate did not offer immediate respite from life’s challenges, adding that among others, they did not have land to cultivate.
But the gods appeared to be with Mukamanzi as her eagerness to partake in community activities showed she was able to do what other people could do.
As the area had no electricity, there was a project that sought to help the people with solar energy, but they wanted to train some people who could help in solar energy installations.
“Two people from the area were the lucky beneficiaries of the training and it was at first hard to fathom I was one of them,” she recalls.
“We underwent a six-month training in India on how to install solar energy and how the system works.”
The training was funded by Gorillas International, a non-governmental organisation working to change livelihoods of vulnerable people around the Volcanoes National Park, among other initiatives.
The same organisation provides solar energy materials that are used in community lighting.
“I could not imagine how an illiterate person like me, from the jungles, could take a flight... in the plane... It was while in India that I realised it was all so true and not just some hallucination in a leaking hut,” she adds
Lighting the communities
Upon return, Mukamanzi started working on lighting the area.
Mukamanzi says it was a good experience and a time to prove that the bad past the historically marginalised people lived was due to poor leadership.
“I now do the whole process of solar energy installations, I am a woman who can now climb on top of a roof and do what would in conventional norms be called a ‘man’s job,’” she says
“It is just a matter of self-esteem; as long as I have all the materials, I know how to connect them and power things on,” she says with a tinge of pride in her voice.
“After connecting the parts, the control charger demonstrates whether the installations were successful or whether there is a technical problem, then you take the solar panel connected to other materials on the roof ” Mukamanzi adds.
“I am no longer a beggar. I can feed myself and my children, I enrolled all my children to school and my level of understanding has improved.
“I feel now I am a person unlike in the past when we felt inferior and never participated in the national development.
“Besides, I have acquired land for cultivating. I also bought a cow and own a modest house. I have made a huge difference in my life and I am currently raising four orphans,” she says.
Her message to the women
Mukamanzi’s dream is to work hard to achieve higher. She also plans to train other women, especially those with a similar background, to change their livelihood and develop themselves.
“I would like to encourage women to rise up and work hard as it is important. There is no job reserved for men and we should not keep depending on our husbands,” she advises women.