The Independent (Kampala)

1 September 2014

Uganda: One Million Rwandans Graduate Out of Poverty

For the last 18 years, Esperance Nyiramahoro, 34, had tried every job but without much luck in overcoming poverty. Life was hard; she was barely able to get enough to keep her family afloat. It is only five years ago when her life started to change - thanks to the government's social protection programmes under the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS).

Nyaramahoro is one of the one million people who have now managed to graduate from poverty over the last five years. Like many Rwandans, Nyiramahoro's story is one of optimism and resilience.

"Before, life was hard but has changed today for the better. We have managed to start our own projects after acquiring loans from Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (Saccos)," says Nyaramahoro.

Nyiramahoro says social protection has had a big impact on women who manage families. "The health care insurance has helped the children. Family members are able to visit hospitals for medical care services," she says.

Six years ago, the government initiated social protection programmes to accelerate poverty eradication. Today, all Rwandans from the country's 30 districts benefit from these programmes.

Beneficiaries include the elderly, people with disabilities, children, female-headed households, vulnerable Genocide survivors, and the historically-marginalized Rwandans. Also, students, especially those under the genocide survivors welfare fund (FARG), have benefited and hundreds have already graduated. Genocide survivors have been supported with a budget of around Rwf24 billion annually.

Last year, the number of FARG beneficiaries joining university increased from 5,629 to 8,100 students. Also, the number of those joining high school has been maintained at around 30,000.

Dr Joseph Kamugisha of Kanombe Military Hospital, explains that what makes Rwanda's social protection programmes unique in the region is the ability of the government to follow up these services and see whether they benefit the most vulnerable.

He cites mutuelle du Sante, which now covers 90% of the total population since its inception over 12 years ago.

"It's important to note that most of the health insurance services are offered by the government to cover medical services for Rwandans especially the poor," he explains.

Records from Ministry of Health show that Mutuelle de Santé serves many people irrespective of their job status.

Thanks to the intervention of social protection, Nyiramahoro is now positive about the future for the whole community. "I know that before my retirement, I would have contributed enough to the Sacco to allow others get more loans for their economic development," she says.

The United Nations has also praised the effort. Rwanda's social protection programmes have helped in sustaining human progress: reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience, according to the latest UN Human Development Report (HDR).

The 2012- 2013 report attributed Rwanda's progress against poverty to the provision of health care to all her citizens. The report cites Rwanda among the few countries that have attained the transition from low health care coverage to nearly universal coverage within ten years.

The report says besides Rwanda; Ethiopia, Angola, Burundi, Mali, Mozambique and Zambia have also performed well.

Today, the government has 13 social protection programmes. They include Ubudehe, Girinka, Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme, and Mutuelle de Santé.

Under Girinka project alone, more than 163,000 heifers have been distributed to vulnerable households in the country and government plan to distribute cows to at least 350,000 households by 2017.

Vincent Gahamanyi is the Director of Vision 2020 Umurenge Program. He explains that social protection consists of policies and programs designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability.

"We hope to extend it to all Rwandans and also train them on why they need to be innovative and stop being dependent on the government," he explains.

Rwanda has the highest population under social health protection in the entire East African region, according to MP Connie Bwiza. The challenge, according to MP Bwiza is to teach people how to become self reliant.

In the budgetary plans for 2014/2015-2016/2017 under economic transformation, Rwf140 billion was allocated to the health sector. "It's very evident that social protection programmes have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans and Rwandans are now financially empowered to start own business," said Bwiza.

The government says from 2011 to 2017, its targets include scaling down the current (44.9 per cent) number of people living under the poverty line to less than 30 per cent. According to official statistics, Umurenge direct support increased to more than Rwf1.5 billion in the year 2013/14, up from Rwf400 million in early 2009.

The programme started with 30 sectors across the country, supporting around 6,000 households, but coverage has since increased to 180 sectors with more than 40,000 households benefiting.

Beneficiaries have managed to save and meet other needs beyond basic needs such as food. Under VUP, many Rwandans such as Nyiramahoro have been able to save and have since joined Saccos.

Worldwide, social protection is being championed by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development aiming at preventing, managing, and overcoming situations that adversely affect people's well-being.

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