The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi left the family fabric in tatters. Women were rendered widows and forced to take care of their surviving young children. Children, with their parents killed during the genocide had nowhere to go but to survive in the streets as hopeless orphans. Families were torn apart, and the effect of that period is still being felt today, 24 years later.
However, despite the gloom, the resilience of Rwandans is captured in one progressive youth who has given hope to vulnerable mothers and their children in Gasabo district. Bertrand Ishimwe, 23, a genocide survivor, founded the Mama Rwanda project in 2016 to help underprivileged women engage in sustainable activities to help cater for the basic needs of their families.
The first batch of 25 mothers who had been learning tailoring skills at Irembo Organisation in Kacyiru since the inception of Mama Rwanda graduated in April 2017 with certificates. Two of them Dianne Umwari and Hillary Mukeshimana have already secured employment with UTEXRWA, a leading garment factory in Kigali while one of the mothers has gone ahead to open up her own tailoring business.
Mama Rwanda is a project running under Irembo Organisation which Ishimwe said he founded in 2015 to help a group of vulnerable children attend school without financial and material hitches. The idea to help the children was hatched while he was still in Senior Six at Lycee de Kigali.
The first batch of 45 children under the care of Irembo was mostly being supported by foreigners. “But I thought about what would happen if these foreigners decided to withhold their support or pulled out. What would I do with them? That’s how the idea Mama Rwanda was born,” says Ishimwe.
He says Mama Rwanda project was founded to provide these single parent mothers with training to develop valuable skills to help support their families.
An accomplished visual artist who also cofounded Niyo Art Center with his older brother, Pacifique Niyonsenga, Ishimwe says the most of the funds (65%) to run the project comes from sales of his artwork, while a small portion comes from well wishers. Rwanda Youth Team of Irembo is a group of youth Ishimwe schooled with and the group also helps in soliciting funds.
Last year, Ishimwe says, he did 10 exhibitions abroad and almost all the money raised was ploughed back to running the project. In July, he had an exhibition at Knox Gallery, St. Lois City in Missouri while in August he had two exhibitions at St. Peters Art Cultural Center and Lily Nyan art galleries also in Missouri.
He adds the success story so far is that the mothers who have managed to graduate can now hope to take care of their families. “Even though Irembo has been taking care of the education needs of their children, the mothers now have the opportunity to help support these children through providing them with other basic needs. Our mission is to uplift the living standards of as many families as we can manage,” says Ishimwe.
Ishimwe notes that even though they started with only a group of 45 children, the number has since risen and now stands at 126 whom they help to pay school fees and purchase other materials like books and school uniform. He says 10 of them are this year proceeding to O’Level while one girl has completed her Senior 6 studies at Gisenyi Adventist Secondary School and successfully graduated.
Elyse Maria Dusabe, a 35-year-old widow and mother of four says, “I’ve lived a miserable life since my husband died 13 years ago. My mind was always preoccupied, thinking of how I’m going to deal with the future. My four children haven’t had an education to insure their future. It’s this sewing project that has thrown me a lifeline because I’ve acquired the skill to make me work for my family.”
Irembo Organisation also runs another project for the women called Agaseke Women Project – where unemployed women learn the necessary techniques to make traditional Rwandan baskets, mats and derivatives in order to produce good quality products which are sold.
Over 17 women are currently involved in this project and their products are exhibited at Irembo Shop in Kacyiru.
Ishimwe says they intend to recruit more mothers who are going to receive tailoring training this year, and they also hope to open a shop where the mothers can display and sell their products.
By Joseph Ondiek @theinspirerpubl
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