By Michel Nkurunziza
Damaris Uwamariya, now aged 25 years, came in Kigali in 2005 for domestic work after her dad passed away, and only her mother struggled to look after the family as she hardly got food and clothing for them owing to extreme poverty.
It was in 2011 that she left the work because she was impregnated and started to fight for survival on her own.
Since then, she said, she used to live in poor conditions and the little money she could earn through on-wage casual labour, could only be spent on a small rented house in Ndera Sector.
In May 2017, Uwamariya was one of 23 beneficiaries composed of destitute teenage mothers [victims of teenage pregnancies], widows, single mothers, genocide survivors who were provided little money from a ‘Good Samaritan” who undertook initiative to provide support to such a needy group, from his own income.
Their sponsor is Jules Sebahizi together with his family and other volunteers who started youth and women drivers of peace initiative, committing to spend part of their own income to support vulnerable women and teenage mothers.
Sebahizi works with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and is an international consultant in socio-economic policies, governance and gender policies.
In only five months after the aid, the teenage mothers report improvement in their livelihoods.
Uwamariya was provided only Rwf40, 000 in May 2017, which she used to start a banana retail business so as to make good use of the support. She also engages in avocado trade.
And, with only in five months since receiving the support, she has gathered gains.
“I buy a tree of avocado at Rwf12, 000 and after selling [its fruit] I gain over Rwf61, 000 from it,” she said.
“From bananas I’ve purchased at Rwf1, 250, I can gain Rwf4, 650 after sales,” she noted, adding that she also trades fruits such as papayas.
The group of vulnerable women who have been divided in three saving associations, have target to save and start big investment. They opened accounts in [Umurenge] Savings and Credits Cooperatives (SACCOs).
I am currently able to pay Mutuelle de Santé (community health insurance) premiums, and my son gets milk every day which I have never been able to afford before,” she noted.
“I save income on SACCO account and as I am still in business, I have also about Rwf200, 000 on my account as I am targeting to buy my own plot on which I plan to build my house,” she said.
A 19-year-old Josiane Muhoza, another beneficiary teenage mother, who was impregnated when she was in primary school, says from Rwf20, 000 support she got, has also been able to buy a goat which is about to deliver and she also retails different commodities.
Other vulnerable women also tell their stories
Angelique Mukamanzi was provided Rwf30, 000 by which she retailed beans, and later invested in brick making.
“I have been spending Rwf30 on one brick, and I sell it at Rwf70 .This helped me to build my own simple house of three rooms at a cost of Rwf200,000 and refurbish it as more income is generated. I care for my five children,” she said.
Seraphine Mujawamariya, says she was provided Rwf60,000 , bought a goat , five chickens and a pig.
“From the rest and income from eggs from chicken, I also ventured into retailing soaps , salt , food crops and others from which I get school materials for students,” she said.
For single mother Francine Uwamahoro, she was provided Rwf60, 000 and started selling sorghum beer and Mandazi (a type of wheat flour-made bread).
She says she is currently paying for herself to learn tailoring skills.
Sebahizi said that the idea of supporting vulnerable women and female youth originates from how his father who used to do the same before he died and how he also studied gender policies at university.
His first support, he said, started in Bugesera District where he and his wife supported four families, then two in Rwamagana District.
He later went on to support 15 families in Kicukiro District and later, moved to Ndera Sector to give aid to 23 families made of teenage mothers, widows, single mothers, and female genocide survivors among others.
He is planning to support 15 teenage mothers in Gatsata sector from his own income and from eight volunteers he works with so that they are able to return to school or short courses in vocational training.
“We have no other support from any other person. It is our own commitment to take part of our own income to support vulnerable groups. Any other who can inject in support, we can be a boost to the initiative as we can reach more beneficiaries especially teenage mothers,” he said.
He uses mapping approach to know the most vulnerable, in collaboration with local officials and each beneficiary is provided any amount of support depending on what they wish to do.
“From those who got first support I realized that from small support, one can graduate from destitution. One widow whose two children were teenage mothers, and the other a school drop-out happened to return them to school and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) center by using income generated from the support we provided,” he said.
“That inspired me to strengthen the initiative and help them form saving groups so that once they become great people, it will be my good legacy,” he observed.
He said he targets to enhance their financing capacity and if the initiative becomes economically capable, he will extend to other districts.
Officials from Ndera Sector have pledged to provide a piece of land to the women’s association to do farming activities that will also improve nutrition in their families.