How saving groups are helping women keep poverty at bay

Marie Anne Dushimimana

Around 11am on Thursday last week, women gathered in the compound of a local organisation in Karongi District in Western Province.

The group of 30 sat in a circle around a large table on which money — mostly in notes of Rwf5, 000 denominations —was placed. One woman standing inside the circle called out names, and whoever she called stepped forward with eagerness and received a small bundle of money.

Those who had already received their money counted it excitedly, while others patiently waited for their turn.

These are some of the women living in Bwishyura sector, under Tubibe Amahoro, a non-profit organisation that focuses on improvement in people’s living condition. They were receiving money they’d saved amongst themselves for nine months — Rwf5m to be exact.

Clementine Mukangemanyi, the group leader, said everyone received Rwf202, 000. After happily counting her own money, she shared her story of how she got into saving groups.

“My husband was killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. My children were still young and I had no financial means of my own. I started doing odd part-time jobs just to get something for us to eat,” she said.

She used to live in a house that was given to her by the Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG); however, she was still not able to put enough food on the table as she was very poor.

Mukangemanyi joined the saving group in 2010 when members of Tubibe Amahoro approached her and told her about the benefits of saving groups.

When she joined in 2010, every group member contributed Rwf400, plus Rwf100 for the social fund.

“Currently, every member contributes Rwf3500 a week, plus Rwf100 for the social fund. This means that every woman saves at least Rwf14, 000 every month,” she said.

“This way, I use my money to expand my small business. I sell vegetables and fruits, and from it, I was able to build two small houses which I rent out and get extra money. Life is easier now compared to when I wasn’t in the group,” she said.

Esther Mukamashyaka is in charge of receiving money from the group members; she then deposits it in their account in a micro-finance institution every week.

Any member who wants to borrow money from the group has to go through her; she then shares the application with all the members to accept the credit or reject it.

“When a group member needs money, we assess her ability to pay back the loan and if we find that she’s able to, we give her what she requested for, or we reduce it depending on her source of income,” she said.

Trust is a key value in most saving groups, so when one is dishonest, she is removed immediately, Mukamashyaka added.

“We’ve only had one case where someone refused to pay us back. She left with Rwf25, 000. I hope there won’t be any other case,” she said.

Stephanie Mukantwari is a member of Abadahigwa Cooperative. The women in this group make utensils from clay, and they too save under Tubibe Amahoro.

The money they save helps take care of most of the basic needs in their families, she said.

“After we joined the saving group, we started to think big and targeted projects like having electricity in our homes, or getting gas for cooking. Right now, most of us have achieved these goals and are already setting new ones,” she proudly said.

As an organisation, they got hands-on training in making various items from clay first, and then they put their skills to use and started saving money.

Today, Mukantwari owns a retail shop which keeps on expanding courtesy of the money from the saving group and cooperative. She also approached a finance institution and got a loan which she used to buy a motorcycle for additional revenue.

“Having electricity, gas and water in our homes is a relief. The time we used to spend on housework has now been cut short,” she said.

More than 1200 saving groups have been created and are operating in the districts of Karongi and Ngororero in Western Province, both under the Tubibe Amahoro project.

Pierre Celestin Kabano, the executive secretary of Tubibe Amahoro, says helping vulnerable women get out of poverty was the organisation’s top mission.

“In 1994, there were many widows because of the Genocide against the Tutsi. When the organisation started out in 1995, its sole mission was to help restore hope and get these women out of poverty to be able to raise their children,” he said.

“Our goal is to help as many women as possible, that they may never feel the need to beg and will always be economically independent,” he said.

“We are glad that their mindset is changing as they are now confident and their families live a better life because of them. They are contributing to national development,” he says.

The women in the saving groups have been trained in various fields, including tailoring, making clay items, entrepreneurship, to mention a few.

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