Marthe Mukambonera never studied beyond primary school level. When she got married about 30 years ago, she remained a house wife but didn’t want to let her husband remain a sole bread earner for the family.
One morning in 2015, Mukambonera 57, was invited by local leaders to attend a meeting mobilizing women in Gikondo sector, Kicukiro District to join social development programs championed by Women for Women – an international organization that provides practical and moral support to women survivors of war.
During the meeting, Mukambonera was presentment with an opportunity that would eventually change her life.
“We were told about the opening to train in skills development. I chose sewing,” Mukambonera told KT Press.
When the training kicked off, Mukambonera found more opportunities and was interested in doing other trainings in business management, housekeeping and basket weaving.
She told KT Press that one day another opportunity came knocking. She was chosen among other many to do training in Hotel services in Kayonza district, Eastern Province.
“After training we were given a chance for employment interviews with Marriott Hotel. I passed and was hired,” Mukambonera says.
The news that a woman of her age had been hired by an International 5-star Hotel was hard to believe, not even her children could believe it.
“When I told my son – a university graduate that I had been hired by Marriott Hotel, he couldn’t believe. He said there is no way his mother would get such a decent job when he is unemployed with university qualifications,” Mukambonera jokingly told KT Press.
But her story was real. She was hired a long with other 25 women and started working in different departments at Marriott hotel in June 2016.
Today, Mukambonera earns Rwf 300, 000 ($357) monthly salary plus incentives and works in laundry department at the Hotel in the capital Kigali.
According to Yulia Bogdanova – Human Resource Director at Marriot Hotel, these women have become one of the best performing members of staff.
“We established an English class for them to learn basic communication skills and they have been the best performers,” Bogdanova told KT Press.
Mukambonera and her colleagues employed at Marriott are just an example of around 20,000 more vulnerable women supported by Women for Women International-Rwanda chapter in collaboration with its partners.
Activities supporting women in Rwanda and other countries are fully funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies – a charitable arm of the Bloomberg founder and American Billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg.
Through Bloomberg funding, Women for Women International – Rwanda chapter was meant to empower 20,000 vulnerable women in its 4- year program (2013-2017).
One of its flagship projects; the ‘Women’s Opportunity Centre’ in Kayonza district, Eastern Rwanda, is the ‘crown jewel’ of the program.
Antoinette Uwimana – the Country Director for Women for Women International in Rwanda says through partners such as Workforce Development Authority (WDA), Imbuto Foundation, Marriott Hotel; Gender and Family Promotion Ministry and others, the program has facilitated women to graduate with enough skills to help them compete on the job market.
She said that through partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies they have managed “to meet women where they are and to offer them opportunities to build their capacity and generate more income for themselves and their families.
“She added: “We believe this vision will impact women’s lives for the better.”
At a meeting today with Women for Women and stakeholders, scores of women shared inspiring stories of their achievements since the program started in Rwanda.
Apart from the hospitality department that has changed Mukambonera’s life, other trained women such as Caritas Mukagatana from rural Nyaruguru district in Southern Rwanda were trained in modern bee keeping.
“Through training from Women for Women and partners, we formed a cooperative of 46 women and have invested in honey business,” she told KT Press while displaying packaged honey in a plastic container – which is one of her cooperative’s finished products.
Through her ‘Abafitintego’ cooperative, Mukagatana and 45 other members practice modern bee keeping with 30 bee hives.
“We harvest 30kgs from each beehive equivalent to 900kgs from 30 beehives in a year,” she told KT Press.
With a kilogram going for Rwf4000 ($4.7), Mukagatana and members of her cooperative earn an annual Rwf3.6 million from beekeeping business.
Honey is the main bee keeping product widely consumed in Rwanda, with the current demand of 1,715 metric tons from 1,625 in 2006, according to figures from Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
RDB targets private investment in honey sector to be valued at $7 million before end of this year.
Meanwhile, Elina Niyigena 21, a secondary school dropout from Musanze district in Northern Rwanda, is another shining graduate of Women for Women program.
Trained in construction, Niyigena told KT Press “Women for women and WDA trained me in painting and making bricks. I am currently earning a living.”
Experts in women empowerment believe skills development makes sense to women than just giving them money.
Speaking at the meeting, Joy Ndungutse – CEO and co-founder of Gahaya Links – a Rwandan handcraft company dedicated to women’s economic empowerment through enterprise design, said, “Giving women money won’t take them anywhere. Just give them knowledge and the rest will work out.”
Today, Gahaya Links has grown to include over 5,000 women weavers in 52 different cooperatives across Rwanda, with at least 2000 women trained through partnership with Women for Women International.
Just like Marthe Mukambonera who is shining at Marriott Hotel, other beneficiaries of the program vowed to change history in their communities.