Reflections from Rwanda

My internship with Hands of Mothers (HOM) in Kigali, Rwanda is sadly coming to a close. The time I spent working with three womens cooperatives over the summer was both challenging and fulfilling. I certainly learned a lot about the challenges facing the women we worked with surrounding empowerment and sustainable income generation in the context of poverty and poor health. Despite these challenges, I found the work fulfilling when our HOM team was able to have a positive impact on the cooperatives through our training sessions and group discussions. While each cooperative still has a long way to go in order to become a self-sustaining, viable business, I am happy to say that each cooperative has made some real progress.

Ejo Hazaza is preparing for the grant for their mushroom project and developing a contingency plan in case they are not awarded the grant. Twiyubake has found new shops to sell their sandals in (including at high-end hotels in Kigali), and they are working to develop new cooperative rules and regulations in order to create an accountability system. In addition, the cooperative members rented a new house in Nyabugogo near the central bus station in Kigali where they make and sell sandals. This place is closer to where the cooperative members live than their old workshop, largely solving their transportation issue. Baho has purchased an additional 50 chickens, and is working with the HOM team to find new clients to sell their eggs to at a higher price. In addition, all three cooperatives have begun to sell their products at the monthly Farmers and Artisans Market in Kigali. While the progress made so far is exciting, more work remains to be done, and I am looking forward to hearing about the trials and successes from my colleagues in the coming months.

At my final team meeting we discussed priorities going forward. The HOM team is going to meet with each cooperatives’ leadership team to discuss accountability, organization, and management with a focus on lessons learned thus far and opportunities to improve in the future. In addition, we discussed the idea that each cooperative could purchase a cooperative bus card that members can use when they go out to find new clients or to sell products at a market (money surrounding transportation continues to be an issue). We also talked about the possibility for each cooperative to purchase a cooperative cell phone so clients can easily contact the cooperative for sales. The HOM team is also going to continue its focus on capacity building through trainings and workshops, with a focus on remaining challenges such as adequate record keeping, financial management, and profit/loss statements, in addition to helping each cooperative find more customers for their products.

My goodbye to the HOM team and the women we work with is going to be very difficult. I truly enjoyed my internship, and I’m not quite ready for the experience to be over just yet. Apart from my work, I’m going to miss the friends that I’ve made and the ease of life in Kigali. I feel very thankful to have had this wonderful opportunity, and I hope that one day I will come back to Rwanda.