Valerie Mukamusana likens her experience of living in extreme poverty not as an uphill struggle, but more a battle for any kind of movement at all.
‘We were like passengers in a vehicle with no driver,’ says the mother-of-eight from Rwanda. ‘But now we are in the driving seat and the car is in motion, moving towards our goal and we know we will get there.’
Her journey began when Tearfund partner AEE brought a project called Ending Poverty One Village at a Time (EPOVAT) to her community in Kayonza district.
The key tenet is that AEE helps residents identify and tackle poverty problems together.
Rescued from desolation
So as lack of income in this subsistence farming-dependent area was limiting people’s lives, AEE set up and trained villagers to run a self-help group (SHG), where members regularly save money and can access loans to start small-scale business ventures.
Valerie, who was one of the 20 women to became SHG members and receive training on saving and credit management, is now planning to make money by selling vegetables.
But what has radically had an impact on Valerie is the encouragement to think differently about tackling her poverty: ‘Truly, this project rescued us from total desolation,’ she says.
‘We were forever in our homes with little social interaction and no forum for us to exchange ideas. We were locked in our own mind-set, in such a condition you cannot develop, your thinking is static and is confined to what you have always known.
I managed to identify my problems and to find possible solutionsValerie Mukamusana
‘You have neither information about the outside world, nor knowledge of what works or doesn’t. You have very little knowledge about what you can do with the resources you have around you and you can’t learn new skills because you don’t interact with others.
‘But now we can exchange information, learn from each other, gain new insights from knowledge in the group, as well as skills that we learn from training we get. We’re accountable to each other in using what we’ve learnt to improve our life conditions.
‘I’m now starting a new life because of joining this group. I managed to identify my problems and to find possible solutions.’
As well as enabling people to think and act differently about their poverty, the EPOVAT project provides answers to big intractable community-wide problems.
For instance, in the case of Valerie’s village, AEE tackled the lack of clean water by supplying two plastic tanks to collect 20 cubic metres of rain and carried out work to protect six springs from contamination.
This has led to a reduction in illness caused by waterborne diseases, fewer expensive visits to the clinic and people having better health to pursue their livelihoods.
Valerie is one the 6,200 women supported through the EPOVAT project in 175 villages around Rwanda. At the end of three years, the project intends to have reached 136,000 people in 27,216 households.
For Valerie, poverty’s hold is being broken and she now has the keys to move her life forward: ‘I cannot remember when I ever thought, let alone hoped about a good future,’ she says. ‘Now I know the potential I have, I know where I am, where I want to go and how to get there.’
A little background …
We currently work with five Rwandan partners.
Across ethnic divides, Moucecore works through the church to train community group leaders in peace and reconciliation.
Association Mwana Ukundwa (AMU), meaning ‘loved child’, believes education is key to ending child poverty. AMU is empowering orphans, foster families and childheaded households through small business loans and training in skills such as tailoring and embroidery.
In hunger and disaster-prone southern Rwanda, the Rural Development Interdiocesan Service is boosting food production through activities such as valley drainage and irrigation, compost and manure production, poultry and pig farming, fish farming and bee keeping.
African Evangelistic Enterprise is helping 30,000 people in eastern Rwanda through self-help groups, enabling them to access credit and pool their resources in saving schemes.
Alliance Evangélique Pour la Santé et Développement (AESD) uses local church networks to raise awareness of HIV and challenge stigma and prejudice. Other AESD projects include tackling urban poverty, and village-led initiatives to improve food production and water and sanitation.