Stéphanie Mukantaganda, 55, a resident of Kimisagara, a Kigali city suburb, had no formal schooling because her parents were too poor to afford school fees.
Having missed out on formal education, she accepted to settle for less.
She then only longed for a stable marriage, optimistic that it would put an end to the deprivation and unhappiness she had suffered all her early life.
And indeed when marriage did happen, relative comfort came along too as the man she settled with to build a family was a very hardworking man and reliable provider of the family.
Then tragedy struck and her husband died after a short illness. And this is when things started to go out of hand again.
“Hunger started to become the order of the day, and poverty became worse than what I had seen in childhood,” she laments in a recent interview.
She mentions that four of her seven children who had enrolled in school dropped out and were on the verge of going to the streets to beg since home didn’t offer them much anymore than basic shelter.
This misery continued until 2002, when Mukantaganda was recruited by Ikondera Limited, a cleaning company contracted by the City of Kigali (CoK) to sweep roads and streets.
“The Rwf1, 000 they pay us every day started to make a difference in my life. We stopped sleeping hungry, and I could now afford to cloth my children and also pay rent for our modest house.”
She says that since four of her children are now married with their own families, and two have their school fees catered for by an international charity, Compassion International, she can now afford to send the other one to school using her own savings.
Though she doesn’t have much herself, once in a while she gives to beggars. She adds that they are lobbying companies to increase the pay of these workers from Rwf1, 000 to at least 2,000.
Mukantaganda is part of the over 408 staff working under 5 different companies contracted to clean Kigali city roads.
According to Mukashyaka Immaculate the Greening and City Beautification expert at CoK, a budget of Rwf 32m every month is dedicated to clean about 102Km of city tarmac roads .
She points out that four people clean a kilometre. And the number of workers increases when more tarmac roads are rolled out. “Next year we hope to tarmac 25 more kilometers and obviously we shall recruit more cleaners.”
The work however comes with some challenges. For example, there is a high risk of accidents, as sometimes sweepers get knocked by speeding vehicles.
Mukashyaka says plans are under way to replace them with cleaning trucks on 42km of tarmac roads as part of efforts to avert the accident risk and also increase efficiency of work.