Through funding from the Alan & Babette Sainsbury Charitable Trust, Survivors Fund (SURF) has been supporting a group of 41 survivors in membership of our partner organisation AVEGA Agahozo in Ntarama to receive training in English, business planning, and sewing. The objective of the project is to foster the group to become an income-generating cooperative, through an intensive livelihood development programme. The project is based at the MCW Community Centre.
Six months into the programme, members of the group, such as Beline, are already enjoying the benefits of the training. We feature an interview with her here, to demonstrate the impact of this model of support, which is a simple but effective means of empowering widowed survivors of genocide in Rwanda.
Beline Musengamana (aged 58)
1. Why did you join the group?
Despite my age, I really wanted to learn and gain more knowledge and skills. I have worked with other cooperatives previously but as the members didn’t have many skills they did things very badly.
The group that is receiving training now was once smaller and was formed by AVEGA as a survivors group. It used to meet every day, sharing different things in life. One day the group was approached by the CDW (Community Development Worker) of AVEGA and asked if they’d like to engage in entrepreneurship. As most of the group knew each other they decided to start the programme.
2. Do you feel comfortable with the group?
Yes I do feel very comfortable working with them, otherwise I would have stopped coming. I enjoy meeting with the others. I live alone so meeting other people with the same problems is good for me.
3. What were you doing before?
I wasn’t doing anything. I had nothing to do except digging and looking after my garden. I was having some problems, so the doctor encouraged me to meet with others and share. That’s why I joined the cooperative.
4. What is your role in the programme?
In the programme I am the cashier and in AVEGA group I am also the cashier. The group saves together. Initially people were wary of each other, but now they trust each other so they each contribute 100RWF (about 10p) per month. The money we have collected so far is not very much, so we are still saving the money in the bank rather than using it.
5. How does this compare to the other cooperatives you have worked with?
Those cooperative were concerned with farming and digging, but there was no profit because the members were ignorant, so now these cooperatives have closed down. There was also another cooperative for sewing that was set up in Ntarama. However the cooperative failed because even though there were machines in the warehouse the members did not know how to sew.
6. What do you enjoy about the programme?
I really enjoy everything. The business planning training has helped me to gain more skills. I look back now at the cooperatives I was part of in the past and now I can see why they failed. I enjoy the training because there is complementarity as well between the courses.
7. Have you used any of the skills learnt?
I started a small business of sorghum selling. In the past it used to fail. However, with the skills I have now learnt I’m doing better. This is because I know how to market the product and I understand the importance of customer care. Now that I have the tailoring skills when I go home I take the clothes of neighbour’s children and I use the needles and thread to sew and make additional income that way.
8. So are you making additional income?
I am gaining more profit since I started the training in my business. However working alone is not good. It is much better if you join up with a group and you get more skills, that’s what is most important.
9. What are the challenges of being in the programme?
There aren’t really any challenges. I have learnt things I need to know and I have had to make the sacrificies I need to do to learn.
10. Is it hard to leave your children to come to the group?
Of course it’s hard, but it’s worth it. It is difficult to manage their education though. As soon as I go for training the children run away from school and come back to the house. My children are always teasing me. They think it’s very funny that I go to school. They ask me for my report card at the end of every day!
11. How do you manage the training and all your household duties?
I manage this by waking early in the morning and preparing for the children. In the afternoon, after training I come back and quickly try to complete everything at home.
12. What are your hopes for the future of the group?
I hope, like the others in my group, that we can become a cooperative. I think we can succeed because of all the skills we are getting from the different trainings. If we have people there to support us during the process we will improve.
13. Are you comfortable working in this group as a cooperative?
Very much so, I am ready to work for them.
14. Why is it good to be a cooperative?
Working alone is not good. As a cooperative we share ideas, skills and knowledge. We put into practice what we are taught. If it’s not possible we will have to be entrepreneurs on our own.