An EVKREP Training Session
An EVKREP Training Session

Continuing our series of articles from our Annual Report 2022/23, we outline here our work on our Empowering Vulnerable Genocide Widows in Karongi and Rutsiro Districts to Alleviate Extreme Poverty (EVKREP) Project.

Survivors Fund (SURF), in partnership with AVEGA Agahozo, was awarded a grant of $93,604 for an 18-month project from July 2021 to December 2022 by the Addax & Oryx Foundation.

The Empowering Vulnerable Genocide Widows in Karongi and Rutsiro Districts to Alleviate Extreme Poverty (EVKREP) project will empower 400 vulnerable genocide widows and 1,200 of their dependents in Karongi and Rutsiro District of Rwanda’s Western Province to:

  1. Alleviate their poverty by ensuring they have the skills, resources and confidence to generate income. This will be achieved by forming and training Income Generating Activities (IGA) groups to start saving, develop viable businesses, and access capital to set up and scale businesses.
  2. Reduce vulnerability, build the confidence and improve the wellbeing by empowering participants to take greater control of their lives and to participate more fully in the project activities through counselling support.
  3. Improve food security and sustainable energy for the most vulnerable, in particular those who are elderly and affected by HIV, through provision and training in subsistence gardens, solar lamps and clean cookstoves.

EVKREP was an extension of the Empowering Vulnerable Genocide Widows in Karongi District to Alleviate Extreme Poverty (EVKEP) Project that was also funded by the Addax & Oryx Foundation (2019-20). It proved that IGA group training, new business development, incentivising savings and providing access to loans, together sustainably generates income even for vulnerable genocide widows. EVKREP extended support to new participants in Karongi that had not been able to benefit from EVKEP, as well as new participants in Rutsiro District.

To proceed, SURF worked with AVEGA to develop an IGA model using business school students as Cooperative Business Development Assistants (CBDs) who train and support the widows to develop and strengthen their business plans, enhance access to capital in partnership with a microfinance bank partner, Urwego Bank Ltd, and launch their ventures to be sustainable and profitable. This network of CBDs was supported through a community-based model of 13 teams of paired volunteers to cover 26 sectors across Karongi and Rutsiro to deliver supplementary support to widows. The role of the volunteers were:

1. Community volunteers will undertake home visits to widows, recording and reporting on their status, and providing assistance in particular in how to exploit subsistence gardening for small income and good nutrition.
2. Volunteer Counsellors trained in basic counselling techniques who support AVEGA’s professional counsellor to support the mental health of widows, which has proven to be critical in securing the effective participation of widows in IGAs.

The evidence-based approach to alleviate poverty and strengthen resilience serves as the core of this project. The volunteer network of stronger widows is a cost-effective model of outreach to deliver peer support and training to empower participants to develop a livelihood, improve their mental health and address their immediate basic needs (to ensure their food and energy security).

The project reached 559 vulnerable genocide survivors and 1,204 (489 males and 715 females) dependents who were identified are the beginning of the project. Among them, 120 (22 males and 98 females) beneficiaries have received loans from Urwego Bank to start their small businesses to generate income to be able to better support their families. The total amount of loans that are currently being borrowed (and will be repaid, if the 100% repayment rate is maintained) amounts to Rwf 16,295,450 ($15,071)

Project staff continue to monitor the participants from EVKEP, as well as continuing to  support the new groups from EVKREP. And as a result, 1,129 people benefited from the support and the total amount saved by credit and savings groups amounts to Rwf 80,930,150 ($74,850) which is being used by project beneficiaries to fund their small businesses, as well as to help those in need to address any hardship issues. All these achievements could not happen without the support of Addax & Oryx Foundation.

Counselling support was offered in order to reduce the trauma amongst the genocide survivors. Both group and individual counselling therapy has been conducted and 225 beneficiaries have benefited from individual counselling, while 380 have participated in group counselling. 

Victorine *

Victorine is 66 years old and a genocide widow in membership of AVEGA. She participated in the EVKREP entrepreneurship training and applied for loans from Urwego Bank to start a business. Also, she is among the project beneficiaries who received a kitchen garden.

“Before joining this project, I was amongst the poor women from this community. I had nothing to do to generate income for my family, and life was not easy at all. After joining we had a very useful training on entrepreneurship where we were taught about starting business and I came up with an idea of setting up a small boutique as a business. I participated actively in a savings group while attending training. I personally benefited from joining this project as I had experienced trauma because of the poverty in which I was living, and because I was always thinking about the past. But with the counselling support I felt comfortable enough to be able to apply for a loan of Rwf 200,000 ($185) which I was awarded which enabled me to implement my idea. I now am generating monthly profit after expenses of between Rwf 45,000 to Rwf 50,000 ($40-45). I have received 2 chickens as well at the outset of the project, and I now have 11 chickens. I am able to eat and sell eggs to get money to support my business by selling surplus eggs, which has improved my living standards. On top of that I have received some money to set up a kitchen garden, which is very important to my family. We used to buy vegetables at the market, but now I am able to grow everything I need at home.

Victorine is very thankful for the achievements through the project and believing her life has changed in a significant way due to the support she has received during the lifespan of the project. She will continue to work hard by adding more items in her boutique.

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