By Aaron Weiss, CHF Rwanda Intern
Françoise Mukabalisa wakes up each morning and commutes to her canteen, where she works from nine in the morning to six at night. Françoise’s canteen is located in a large Kigali market, where she serves hundreds of shoppers passing through each day. She sells bread, omelets, and cold beverages, amongst many other things. Currently, she employs three staff, who help her with cooking, cleaning, and most importantly, serving the customers. The normalcy of her business, however, does not reveal the tremendous journey that she took to get here.
What many do not know about Françoise is that she is a single mother and the only provider for her household. What this means is that with so many obligations and responsibilities, until recently Françoise was unable to have a much needed sustainable income. But Françoise’s life changed in August of 2010, when she was invited to join one of CHF’s savings and lending groups under the USAID Higa Ubeho Program. With funding from USAID and PEPFAR, the program aims to increase community level services and support for the most vulnerable families in Rwanda, with the overall goals of promoting and strengthening self-reliance. To date, CHF has supported vulnerable populations to establish over 2,000 groups throughout the country. Each group brings together at least 20 vulnerable families, helping them to participate in the financial sector with targeted savings goals and access to loans, which would not otherwise be possible.
Françoise’s group consists of only single mothers who had no savings or income for which to provide for their family. In these newly formed groups, the women learned about techniques for coming together and establishing savings by donating 2,000 RWF each month. After that, CHF also trained them on activities that would allow them to turn a profit. CHF also helped to implement a social fund in each group to allow for help in emergencies, such as deaths or illness that may affect anyone in the group, or their families. Other uses of the social fund include celebrations, such as the birth of a child. To allow these groups to grow and build strength CHF helped many to pay for their children’s school fees and paid medical insurance for all.
As a member of such group, Françoise decided to take a loan that allowed her to purchase the food and drinks to start her business. Before her loan was approved, each member had to agree that the food and drinks were actually going to allow her to generate profit and enable Françoise to pay back the loan. And they turned out to be right: the loan was crucial for Françoise to start her own business and to get to where she is today.
With the help of CHF and a lot of hard work, Françoise is no longer dependant on the financial aid of the many aid missions in Rwanda. In fact, many people in local villages have taken notice to recent success of members of INDATWA and, starting in May of 2012, members of the group have begun training other members on how to start their own savings and lending group.
The profits from Françoise’s canteen have allowed her to pay for her own medical insurance, along with the rent for both her canteen and her home. But some of the small things make her even happier. Some of the best benefits of this program, she says, is being able to buy luxuries for herself, such as make-up and earrings. With continued growth, Françoise plans to use profits to diversify her menu to attract more customers. Optimistic, she does not foresee any major challenges. “The program has taught me entrepreneurial skills and [I know that] the customers want my product,” she explains, Looking forward to the future and the opportunities ahead of her.