When Madamu Madeleine's husband died, she thought everything was lost. The mother of seven had no income of her own and her partner had left her and their children nothing. But as the saying goes, where there is life, there is hope.
When the Girinka program started, Madamu Madeleine was one of the beneficiaries in Kabare cell in Rwamagana of what she calls a 'Golden Cow' in 2007. "It was a lasting source of income and I was going to exploit that chance. Three months later it gave birth, and I started selling milk."
Soon, she sold 15 liters per day. "Yet I told myself that I could do more than selling milk. So I went to Banque Populaire in Rwamagana and with my cow as a guarantee got a loan of Frw 100,000 to start a business," she explains.
Madamu Madeleine set up a small shop in her sector (Muhazi), which in turn allowed her to build a better stable for her cow. Not satisfied with the small shop, she asked for a new loan, this time of Frw 300,000, so she could sell more goods. "My clientele increased, and I got enough income to pay school fees for the children."
Three of them have now graduated from secondary school, while the others are still studying.
While some people would at that point sit back and relax, Madamu Madeleine saw things bigger. Back to the bank it was, this time for one million francs. "I had been reimbursing them punctually so they didn't have any doubt about this loan either."
With the money she opened a second shop in a neighboring cell, and hired someone to take care of the cows so she could focus on her business. Then she struck gold. "I started working with a bakery whose products I sold in my shops; it was a big success."
So much so that she didn't even need a loan when she decided to build a house at a cost of Frw 10 million, a major upgrade from her previous 2-room home that was hardly better than a grass-thatched hut. "The first night I slept there with my children, I couldn't believe that I had electricity in my house, water in the compound. I bought a TV to know what's happening in the country."
Now, Madamu Madeleine has plans to buy a truck to transport construction materials. While it is not clear where it all will end, the beginning of her business empire is well known: a single cross-breed cow.
Pigs to riches
But it can even be smaller: a pig, too, can turn a life around. When Philomene Muhorakeye's husband was arrested in 1995 on charges of Genocide involvement, she saw her world fall apart. Many of her family members had been massacred, and she was on her own to take care of their five children.
"It seemed hopeless; raising our children was a heavy cross for me to bear," she says. "Back then, I was telling myself that they might not have the chance to go to school, but they would never spend a day without eating at least once."
In March 2011, after the 45-year-old from Kinazi sector in Huye was identified as one of the poorest in her village, she benefited from a support program for small livestock development and received a pig. "After three months my pig gave birth to 9 piglets. I gave one to another poor family and sold the eight others, earning Frw 53,000," Muhorakeye recounts. "I was then able to pay school fees for my kids and buy some things we needed at home."
Through the same program, more than 16,000 poor and vulnerable households in the most impoverished districts of Huye, Gisagara, Nyamagabe, Nyaruguru in Southern Province and Ngororero in the West, have been given pigs, goats, sheep and rabbits in order to boost their living standards. So far, more than 23,000 animals have been distributed.
Muhorakeye's pig kept on giving, so far delivering 24 piglets in three batches and providing manure to fertilize her small piece of land. All her children are now in school, and she is considering adding a cow to her livestock. Yet she will never forget what it was that turned her life around.
"I always tell my children to pay tribute to what pulled us through, and once they have a family to make sure they raise a pig. Thanks to one of them, our family who only had one meal every two days, now has a decent life."