Rwanda: Nyamirambo Women’s Centre – Giving Hope To Disadvantaged Women

By Remy Niyingize

Orphaned at the age of 16, Fatina Umuhoza led a miserable life, characterised by the occasional lack of food and a decent place to stay.

Dreams for a better life were merely that – dreams. However, hope flashed her way when she joined Nyamirambo Women’s Centre (NWC), a hub that was established to empower women in Nyamirambo Sector, Nyarugenge District.

Nyamirambo Women’s Centre is a non-governmental organisation which has transformed disadvantaged women through vocational training – like sewing, handcrafts making, and literacy classes.

For the purpose of giving disadvantaged women a chance at a better life, in 2013, NWC created Umutima Cooperative, where women can generate an income through sewing and making handcrafts.

Umuhoza is a member of Umutima Cooperative, where she has mastered sewing and handcraft making skills.

The 23-year-old is also a mother of one and testifies that her life changed for the better through the implementation of her acquired skills at Umutima, which she joined in 2014.

Umuhoza, a resident of Rwampala Cell, says that as an orphan, the skills she has acquired have changed her life for the better, which was not the case before.

“Before joining this cooperative, life was hard. I got pregnant and had the baby, and then my partner left me.

After joining NWC and Umutima, I now get a monthly salary and I already opened a bank account. Today, I can afford to feed my child and even pay rent. I am a self-reliant woman as I can afford all basic needs,” she explains.

Umuhoza adds that NWC is playing a significant role in women empowerment.

“I now have the power to take control of my life and I look forward to a better future. We now have a voice in the community. That’s an ideal women empowerment goal and Nyamirambo Women’s Center has achieved it,” adds Umuhoza Fatina.

For 28-year-old Marie Gorrette Nyirakamana, also a mother and a member of Umutima Cooperative, life has changed since she joined the cooperative.

“I was lost before joining this cooperative. After becoming a member, I got sewing skills and I am good at hand stitching as well. From my income, I bought a cow, I feed my family and I pay school fees for my child. My husband and I live interdependently. Still, I am looking forward to opening other businesses of my own,” the cooperative beneficiary explains.

A similar story is of 46-year-old Eugenie Mukamugunga, who joined Nyamirambo Women Centre at its launch. She hails the centre for contributing to transformation of the lives of disadvantaged women.

“I remember joining this centre when it had just started, employment for disadvantaged women was unheard of.

After Nyamirambo Women’s Centre created Umutima Cooperative, employment opportunities became many. This is an occupation. I get an income,” Mukamugunga says gleefully.

How it started

In 2007, a group of 18 volunteer women created Nyamirambo Women’s Centre. The group’s target was to teach various skills to local disadvantaged and vulnerable women whose development was challenged by society marginalization such as gender-based discrimination, violence, poverty and lack of access to knowledge, among others.

Initially the organization’s primary objective was to increase empowerment of marginalized women through teaching them different skills including sewing, handcrafts, reading, writing, and computer skills.

The centre started with the help of a Slovenian NGO called ‘Peace Institute’ whose partnership with the community ended in 2015.

In 2009, the delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Rwanda gave the centre some support which stretched up to 2011.

Marie Aimee Umugeni, the coordinator of Nyamirambo Women’s Centre, explains how the organisation’s target aimed at empowering local disadvantaged women.

“The ambitious volunteer women, who created this centre, had the objective of empowering different disadvantaged women. The centre teaches them different skills that will help them change their lives for the better,” Umugeni explains.

As days went by, Nyamirambo Women’s Centre directed its learners to putting their acquired skills into practice in order to generate income. In 2013, it created the cooperative, Umutima, through which women can practice sewing and handcrafts to get profits.

Today, Umutima Cooperative has 40 members who carry out different activities including sewing and making handcrafts using Kitenge and sisal.

According to the committee, there is no sponsorship that the cooperative gets except volunteers who come in from time to time.

Achievements

Epiphanie Musabyingabire, a coordinator of Umutima Cooperative, says that its achievements are many.

“The first achievement is having Rwandan women who are self-sustaining in society. This is the achievement we are most proud of. Furthermore, we reached the goal of fighting marginalisation of women in society,” the coordinator says.

At the cooperative, women use electronic sewing machines and their hands to make their products which include decorations, table clothes, bed spreads, children’s dresses, bags, necklaces, curtains, mufflers, baskets, jewellery, and women’s clothes, among others.

After the creation of Umutima Cooperative, Nyamirambo Women Centre expanded its body, which currently facilitates daily operations of receiving new members.

“We bought industrial sewing machines which increased the number of products we can make,” Musabyingabire says.

She adds, “The number of members has significantly improved. When we had just started, we were only six, but now we are 40 members. This shows that our activities have caught the attention of many women.”

On the market, Umutima has different clients including foreigners who come by day by day.

Umugeni adds that they are proud of being able to make Rwandan products.

“We make local products and we’re proud of this because it promotes the Rwandan culture,” Umugeni says.

After three years in existence, Nyamirambo Women’s Centre hopes to achieve a lot more in years to come.

Challenges

Umugeni explains that there are many challenges the centre is facing.

“We lack quality raw materials, mainly Ibitenge, to make competitive products. This limits our production capacity. In Rwanda, the raw materials we use don’t have the best quality,” Umugeni explains.

Umugeni says that it’s hard to make international sales when they lack quality raw materials.

“To expand our market and sell our products internationally is still a dream,” Umugeni says.

For Musabyingabire, the lack of sufficient funds is also a challenge.

“We don’t have sufficient funds to buy good equipment. We lack equipment like enough modern sewing machines to produce many products. In addition, this challenge is a threat to training as many disadvantaged women as possible,” Musabyengabire says.

26-year-old Jeanette Mukeshimana, a member of Umutima Cooperative says that if they had more equipment, they would make many products and make more profits. “That is the primary challenge,” she says.

Plans ahead

Although Nyamirambo Women’s Centre and Umutima Cooperative have challenges, this won’t stop them from scaling greater heights.

Umugeni says that the organisation is on a mission to operate in all regions of the country.

“We are looking forward to have branches in all regions of Rwanda. This will enable women all over the country to get the help they need and also, sell our products,” Umugeni says.

Umugeni adds that to broaden the sales, the cooperative wants to make products that meet international standards.

In regards to goals, Musabyingabire admits that the cooperative has the goal of building a flexible group of members who will aim at making competitive products.

“We are currently not receiving new members so as to prove the flexibility of the current group. We want to build a strong team which will compete at an international level,” Musabyingabire explains.

Source: allafrica.com

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