As the old adage holds, “give a man fish and you will have fed him for a day but teach him to fish and you will have fed him for a lifetime”, youth in Musanze district who were originally categorized among the historically marginalized people in the district are making tremendous strides towards socioeconomic development thanks to joinery skills acquired.
During a Rwanda Red Cross implemented project since 2014 that targeted historically marginalized people in the districts of Musanze, Burera, and Gicumbi, the youthful demographic of the target beneficiaries was empowered to create associations and identify common vocational interests that could make use of locally available raw-materials.
The youth group in Musanze district chose joinery that utilizes the bamboo plant which is readily available in the Kinigi area. They were offered technical training by a Chinese run youth centre in Masaka in Kigali City after which they received initial equipment and small working capital to get started.
But more importantly as they attest, they were given a social worker to monitor their activities, advice, and advocate for them.
Today, the yellow bamboo stems that charaterise the finished product are dripping gold for the youth. Once a problem to the town’s administrators, these youth are not only making money to sustain their families, they have also transformed into valuable members of the community contributing to the development, no longer waiting to receive but ready to give too.
“It is no secret that when we began, we were fresh from the streets. Very few believed we would amount to anything and being called all sorts of funny names like street kids, thieves and the likes was almost normal for many. But today, some of those who referred to us in all sorts of ways, not that we didn’t deserve so given the kind of life of drug abuse and misconduct that we were leading, are now coming to ask for jobs,” Dusabimana Innocent, the President of the cooperative that is now known as Bamboo promotion Cooperative located in Kinigi trading centre shared.
The cooperative is located in one of contemporary Rwanda’s most touristic areas since it is home to the remaining few Mountain Gorillas that attract thousands from in and outside Rwanda each year.
Tourists are numbered among the cooperatives frequent customers.
But local businesses particularly hotels are progressively appreciating the cooperative’s bamboo products.
“As we speak, the team is working on delivering a Rwf1.5million purchase order from a local hotel which includes 50 chairs and 25 tables all made of bamboo,” Innocent confided.
Also, the cooperative attests that in hardly a year of steady operations, they are becoming a household name for residents and businesses in Musanze. Also, visiting customers from hotels in the capital Kigali are frequenting the cooperative for orders.
“In less than a year, we have had sales of over Rwf4million and this was at a time we had not really established ourselves or even built any reputation in bamboo joinery. With the small reputation acquired so far, we are ready to move to the next level of production”, Dusabimana says.
The cooperative learnt about some good financial management practices including bookkeeping, and saving and owns a bank account. Also, each member as Dusabimana says has a personal account for individual savings.
“We are now working like a mini-factory,” he happily notes. And indeed, the cooperative during such orders finds itself working day and night to deliver on time and never compromising on quality.
From the proceeds of their work, Dusabimana says he has managed to roof his parent’s home with good iron sheets.
“Another member has bought several sheep and someone else is constructing a house of his own. For each of us, life today is brighter and more hopeful.”
Through a three year project, the Rwanda Red Cross in partnership with local authorities and support from the Danish Red Cross supported a project to transform the lives of historically marginalized people in the three districts. Activities ranged from purchase of agricultural land to enable these communities that had never owned land begin to self-transform and live just like any other ordinary Rwandan. Also, school going aged children were supported to attend and empowered to remain in school while youth were empowered through vocational training including bamboo joinery skills, tailoring among others.
The results of this emphasis on building community capacities and empowering people to become leaders of their change are beginning to take shape and as a second phase of this project aimed at consolidating and ensuring sustainability is in the offing, hopes for sustainable socioeconomic transformation not only among the members of bamboo promotion cooperatives but also of the Rwanda Red Cross, local authorities and the target beneficiaries have all reasons to be high.