Alponsine Mukamurenzi from Base sector, Rulindo district had been surviving on pottery for many years, but the money she earned from it was barely enough to get food on the table. "My husband and I were always busy making pots, but we didn't manage to get out of poverty," the mother of 3 recalls.
So she had to work for neighbors in order to provide for the family's basic needs such as clothing to food.
It was in 2008 that Mukamurenzi became convinced that the only way out would be to work with others, and she joined the sewing cooperative Ambara uberwe. It was indeed a turning point.
"Today, I do not only manage to get my family's food, but I also think about other activities that can help me improve my living conditions," she says. "I can get Frw 20,000 at the end of the month and managed to buy a goat that gives me manure to fertilize my field."
As the cooperative is getting bigger and better equipped, Mukamurenzi is also honing her sewing skills. In meantime, she manages to engage in other activities like tomato trading.
Mukamurenzi's new lease of life is due to the support her cooperative gets from the Project for the Socio-Economic and Cultural Development of the Northern Province (PADSEC-NP in its French abbreviation), a joint project funded by the governments of Rwanda and Belgium.
The project has also benfitted Pierre Celestin Niyonsaba from Nemba sector in Burera district, who is member of the maize-processing cooperative Dutsindubujiji. By milling maize into flour, they do not provide flour of good quality to their neighbors, but also they make a lot of money for themselves.
"The cooperative has been helping us to pay for school fees for our children and some have already completed their studies," Niyonsaba says, adding that the cooperative has not only been helping them earn money, but also overcome loneliness as many of them are widows and widowers.
Those are just two of numerous cooperatives that have been improving living conditions, thanks to PADSEC-NP initiative. Deogratias Kabagamba, the executive secretary of the Northern Province, explains that the project was conceived as a means to help people develop themselves in the process of eradicating poverty.
He says the project helps the beneficiaries not only by increasing their income, but also by letting them learn from others through the cooperatives. The initiative provides the associations not only with financial support, but also with some managerial skills to run their activities.
Launched in 2009, the project is operating in all districts of the Northern Province so as to achieve a sustainable development by strengthening the social fabric and also the reconciliation process (for example, it has also financed the construction of a memorial site in Rusiga sector in Rulindo).
The four-year project, to which Belgium through its development agency BTC contributes €4 million and the government of Rwanda €60,960, finances the initiatives of non-governmental actors on the basis of their involvement in reconciliation and the fight against poverty. The activities range from the agaseke weaving to a recording studio for local artists, through a bakery and recycling of waste.
In addition, the project also contributes to the capacity development of local authorities.