Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

Rwanda: A Cooperative That Refuses to Live in Shadow of the Past

Eighteen years after the Genocide against the Tutsis, many orphans and widows are still struggling to rebuild their shattered lives. It gets worse when it comes to those living in the countryside where it's sometimes even impossible for them to save money for essential things like clothes or candles.

While there are some who are still wrapped in the shadow of the Genocide, there are others who chose to free themselves and who found ways to create a better future.

A good example is an association called Ibyiringiro Byacu (Our Hope) that was founded by 12 widows and 3 orphans of the Genocide. They all come from Tumba Sector in Butare.

"I lived a solitary ruined life for several years, I was a poor person who had no one to share her problems with," says Venantie Mukarutabana, one of the widows and founding members of the association, now a cooperative. "I could spend days without eating because I didn't feel like it; maybe I was waiting for a coup de grâce."

Before 94, she had a happy and financially stable family. Her husband was working in Economat, and their four children were growing up in front of them. The family had its own house, cows and a land. She lost everyone she loved during the cataclysmic events that struck Rwanda and cost more than a million loves. She remained only with one daughter who now lives in Kigali.

"The cooperative is our hope, it took us out of despair, loneliness and poverty," she says.

When they started in 2000, everyone was required to contribute Frw 200 every week until each came up with a capital of Frw 5,000. They deposited the sum in an account in Banque Populaire, and in the meantime drafted a project proposal for breeding 15 pigs. The bank gave them the loan they applied for, and they then added the same amount.

"We bought pigs with the goal that every member would eventually have her own piglet [the cooperative remained with initial pigs, ed]. I later sold mine for Frw 50,000," says Gaudence Nyirayuhi, a widow who lost everyone from a family of 9 people. "That's when I've started making thousands for the first time."

They still contribute Frw 200 each per week, which is used to buy animal feed as well as paying those who take care of them. They've also used some funds to build a pig sty.

Dignified burial

Yet it turned out that pigs are costly to maintain, so they decided to sell all of them and instead bought a goat kid for every member. Goats have the advantage that they feed themselves by grazing, and that they produce manure for the fields. They used the remaining money to invest a milking cow, which later gave birth to 3 calves.

"They were given to three members, including me. The next time they go to someone else," says Josiane Abijuru, who is an orphan living with her younger brother. "A cow is a symbol that there's no longer poverty. We want everyone to really benefit from the cooperative."

She herself recently gave her cow away to her brother because she's getting married in July.

Members of the cooperative also help each other mutually. For instance, if someone's child is going to marry, they are all required to contribute in order to support her - as the case of Venantie Mukarutabana when her daughter got married last year. She says that she has received bountiful support from the cooperative.

Similarly, if one of the members can't afford to buy a coffin for a deceased family member, they all contribute to buy it. This is something that they are very much committed to, because they find it very important to be buried with dignity. All the members have mutuelle de santé, and they always make sure to renew it on time.

"There are some among us who remarried. They now have new families and were blessed to once again have kids," says Gaudence Nyirayuhi. "When you're able to find them school materials, pay the fees when they are going to sit for ordinary level exams, when you're able to a nice piece of clothe because you saw someone wearing them, it means that you are no longer poor."

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