Oxfam and partners recently launched a competition to find Rwanda’s Female Entrepreneur Champion – a celebration of the women who are driving Rwanda’s development, setting up small businesses, and leading their communities. These are a few of the amazing women who took part in Nyabihu district in western Rwanda:
The first female carpenter
22-year-old Odette Nizeyimana – the first female carpenter in Nyabihu district – started making simple tools and furniture when she was just 15.
“When I realised that boys were capable of collecting wood and turning it into good furniture and making money, I decided I should learn to do the same. I’m competing with men for marketing our products, but I make the better furniture!”
After three months training with the local men, Odette started making “agasonga bugari” – traditional small chairs which are used for sitting around the fire – which she sold for 400 Rwandan Francs each (now about $0.70). Collecting wood and unused timber to make more products, her business gradually expanded and she began making bigger chairs, doors, tables and more. Odette began to train other local women and she now employs three other girls in her thriving workshop.
The money from her carpentry business is already improving life for Odette’s family: “Using my initial savings I’ve managed to buy a sheep and a cow, which give milk to my family and fertiliser for my farm. We’ve also managed to equip our home – we used to sleep on grass and live in a house with a grass roof. Now we sleep on a mattress in a house of iron sheets.” Now with money in the bank, Odette plans to expand her workshop even further.
A basket of avocadoes sets one orphaned girl on the way to success
Charlotte Mukandayisaba grew up as an orphan depending on the generosity of her neighbours, who gave her a little money to buy food. Her life changed the day she decided to skip her meal and instead use the money she was given (100 Rwandan Francs – about $0.17) to buy a basket of 15 avocadoes, which she took to the market to sell.
After one year in the avocado business, Charlotte used her savings to pay for a training course in tailoring. ‘’I had nobody to look up to, so I decided to work hard, and saving has been my culture,” she says.
Two years later, she set up her own tailoring shop in Rambura, a remote part of Nyabihu district. Now 25 years old, Charlotte currently employs 27 men and women who work as tailors and trainers. She has managed to train 120 other women across Nyabihu and the neighbouring district of Rusizi – many of whom have now opened tailoring businesses of their own.
Charlotte’s business has been very successful. “I have managed to buy four machines that I use in my shop and at home I now have eight Friesian cows and five plots of land where I grow potatoes.”
But being a successful entrepreneur is not enough for Charlotte, and she also supports some of the poorest families in the area. Every baby cow born in her herd has been given to other families so that they can get milk, fertiliser and earn some money from selling the milk. She also trains young girls who had to drop out of school how to make sweaters, shirts, bags and to repair clothes.
Exporting local jewellery across Africa
Libertha Mujawimana worked as a small neighbourhood tailor sewing table cloths. Then a trip to Kenya changed her life and turned her into a leading producer of arts and crafts.
“I was sponsored to go on a learning visit to women’s cooperatives in Kenya. There I found women using horns to make jewellery and I decided to bring the knowledge here,” says 43-year-old Libertha.
Now she makes jewellery such as bangles, rings and earrings for women and belts for men, and has opened up a chain of shops across the country – in the capital, Kigali; in Mukamira, a small trading centre; and in the provincial towns of Butare and Kinigi.
She has managed to train over 100 women and open up three cooperatives in three areas of the country. 28 young women are part of the COAMARU cooperative in Rambura; 35 women in CAVADI in Shyira; and 30 in COAM in Mukamira. All are involved in making products made out of cow horns.
“We want to export our products. We have made exhibitions in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Congo Brazzaville. Our products are appreciated and there is a market for our products,” she says. With the profits so far Libertha has managed to build her own residential house in Rugera district, and a commercial house in Musanze town.