In 2009, Mukeshimana Liberata was a desperate house wife raising her five children. Her husband the family bread winner was earning from carpentry.
According to Mukeshimana, her family could not get everything they needed from the husband’s little income.
“My husband was very hard working, but I always thought about how I could supplement the family income. However, because I never went to school, I thought I was not employable,” she said.
One Saturday during the community work –Umuganda, Mukeshimana remembers a local leader who reminded them that women were needed in the development of the country.
“When the leader said that, I thought he was speaking to young girls and educated people so I did not bother paying much attention,” Mukeshima said.
However, the local leader said something that drew Mukeshimana’s attention.
“Contributing to the country starts with you. Spend quality time doing what you like, come up with ideas and projects and money will come in later,” the leader said.
Those words have until today stuck into Mukeshimana’s mind and from that day, she began thinking of what to do.
As a mother, hygiene came into her mind and she developed an idea of garbage collection within her neighbourhood.
However, Mukeshimana remembers that it was not easy because her husband was neither happy nor supportive of her idea.
“For the first three months I did this job without his permission. I would wait for him to leave home so I could go around homes collecting the garbage,” she said.
In her husband’s view, he thought Mukeshimana was ashaming him as a man and causing disrespect to the family.
“My wife is not supposed to do such a cheap job. I will do all it takes as a man to take care of my family,” Mukeshimana recalls her husband saying.
According to Mukeshimana, venturing into the garbage collection business was not an option but a must because she wanted to prove her husband wrong.
“I would approach the gate, request to talk to the head of the family and negotiate the price. I offered to take the rubbish thrice a week,” Mukeshimana explained.
Lucky enough, her idea was accepted and clients started paying Rwf 2,000 on a monthly basis, she started earning Rwf 80,000 from 40 homes.
Two heads are better than one
Mukeshimana’s life style started to improve, from her kitchen, sitting room and clothing. She was able to cater for basic needs of the family.
“Before we would not eat if my husband hadn’t provided and I cannot deny that there are times we would sleep hungry but after I started working that was the end,” she said reminisces.
She encouraged other women to engage in the business.
“I managed to convince 17 women in my neighbourhood and we worked together as a team which helped us to earn a lot of money in a short period of time,” Mukeshimana said in a conversation with KT Press.
“Many of these women were extremely poor being and most of them were receiving welfare from the local administration, but within a short period they had started to improve their lives,” she said.
Mukeshimana and colleagues immediately formed ‘Isuku cooperative’ and she was able to earn Rwf 120,000 from Rwf 80,000 per month.
One important thing she told the members was to open up savings accounts to help them in future.
The cooperative members expanded their working zone from Kinyinya to other neighbourhoods including; Remera, Kimironko and others as demand for their service grew wider.
“We bought 8 wheelbarrows and would push them without shame. We were happy despite discouragement from some people,” Mukeshimana explained.
These women tremendously improved their lives, at least none of them was still renting. The least among them has a house worth Rwf 7 million.
Meeting President Kagame
Isuku cooperative women had made tremendous progress and thought of sharing their story with President Paul Kagame.
‘We decided to track his citizen outreach tours so that we share our story,” Mukeshimana narrates with a smile.
They kept travelling to where the president went including; Muhanga and Rubavu districts but finally met him at one of the gatherings in Kigali city June 4th, 2010 and they got a chance to speak.
However, before returning the microphone, they made a request to President Kagame; “We wish we could have a truck to help us in transportation.”
As Mukeshimana narrated, without hesitation, the president directly told late Dr. Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, who was the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion then, to make sure these women got the truck and it was delivered to them on June 22nd, 2011.
“Upon arrival, we were given a signed cheque of Rwf22 million which would buy us the truck we wanted,” Mukeshimana told KT Press.
“We immediately hired a driver paying him Rwf120, 000 per month. Hiring a man in our cooperative was a big achievement because many men looked down on us.”
Since then Isuku Cooperative Ltd started going for bigger tenders.
Lucky enough, they won the Kinyinya and Bumbogo sector tenders.
The Business Struggles Become Real
The growth of Isuku Coperative started to involve finance confusions because they were all illiterate so, they decided to hire another man who became their accountant.
“None of us would handle the business finances and transactions,” she explains.
From a cooperative, they registered as ‘Isuku Company’ under Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
The 18 women today have managed to buy other three trucks worth Rwf80 million that help in garbage collection by a loan acquired through COOPEDU Bank, a microfinance institution that was created in 1997 as a saving and Credit Cooperative.
On a monthly basis, they are able to make a gross profit of Rwf14million.
According to Mukeshimana, many of the women in the company are ageing so they are thinking of other projects to invest in as they phase out.
“As years pass, some are becoming older and weak. They are no longer able to engage in this garbage collection business that requires much energy,” she said.
Isuku Company Ltd is planning to buy land where they can carry out animal farming.
“We will start the business with chicken and goats. It doesn’t require a lot of energy and it will keep our elders busy,” she explained to KT Press.
Furthermore, the land will also reduce expenses on renting the garage where they park their trucks. The company spends Rwf60, 000 per month in parking fees.
Mukeshimana’s Isuku Company is among hundreds of other Rwandan women who have been able to standout due to good government policies.
Women in Rwanda like elsewhere still face challenges to excel in the financial sector.
A survey conducted in 2012 by Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics indicates that only 36% of women were formally financially included.
However, in the last five years, financial inclusion among women doubled to 39% in 2016 from 16% in 2010.
According to the 2016 Africa Human Development Report, Rwanda is the second best country in Africa that promotes gender equality in all aspects of life.
Under the leadership of Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), women have been empowered in sectors like leadership, education, economy, health among others.
To support women empowerment, last year, Rwanda’s First Lady, Jeannette Kagame launched a $20 million initiative to support efforts of financially empowering women in the country.