Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Story of Esperance MUKASEKURU...

Esperance Mukasekuru is a successful weaver who lives in Ngoma district, Kibungo sector and Karenge cell. She buys used bed sheets and bed covers and then skillfully weaves colorful drawings into them, increasing their value and thereby allowing her to profit from their resale. Esperance joined UOB in 2000 and received US$35 as an initial loan. She used this loan to buy threads for making and embroidering these bedcovers, bed sheets, and hand -made table mats which she sells to the community.

On account of her good performance in the loan cycle as well as her business’s success, Esperance received a larger loan during the next loan cycle.

In 2001, just one year after joining one of UOB’s trust groups, her husband, who worked as a driver, had a car accident and broke his arm. Her husband’s recovery took two years. During that time, Esperance took up all the responsibilities of supporting her family using the revenues from her business. For example, the windows of their house had had no glasses in them, but during this time, Esperance fixed glass into the window frames. Each successive cycle, Esperance secured a larger loan than the previous one.

UOB teaches its clients to save, and their savings act as an incentive to get a bigger loan the next loan cycle. Consequently, Esperance practiced saving until she was able to get a loan of US $ 1,232. She used this loan to buy a photocopying machine and a computer. With this machine and computer, she opened a new business. She makes copies of different documents for community members who need this service. In return, they pay her for her service. Because she lives near university premises, she photocopies handouts for different students who then pay her according to the size of their documents. For those students who do not have computers or time to type their theses, she charges them some money to type them. From this new business, Esperance makes over US $ 143 per month.

From her profits, Esperance was able to meet the needs of her six children as well as the seven orphans that stay at her house, such as providing them food and paying school fees. From Esperance’s perspective, she has 13 children under her care. Using her business, she has been able to send all her children to school. Four are studying at university, six are in secondary School, and two are in primary school. The remaining daughter received a scholarship to attend university in South Africa.

Once Esperance realized the success of her business, she decided to more fully and deeply impact her community by training community women in weaving. Therefore, she formed a group of five underprivileged women who had no businesses of their own to generate income and taught them how to knit bed covers, sheets, and tablemats as well as to make baskets and bags. The verandah of her house served as a class room. The group turned into an association, and the women are now earning a good amount of money and can provide for their families instead of waiting for a well-wisher to give them relief.

Esperance says that joining UOB helped her not only learn how to work but also gain leadership skills. In 2004, she was elected president of the trust group of which she is a member. Further, when Esperance attended a women’s meeting at the district level, the assembly wanted to elect a president. After learning that she is a president of a trust group, almost everyone voted for her. She then was elected the President of District Women’s Guarantee Fund.

Esperance says that joining UOB has not only benefited her in terms of economic progress but that being a member of a trust group has enhanced her relationship with God and others. She also says the fellowship with her group members – reading the Bible and praying before each meeting – has changed her life by increasing her love for others.

In addition, on account of the time that she and her group members have spent in prayer together, they have cultivated a love for one another. For example, one of Esperance’s fellow trust group members lost her husband to suicide. Because of the love and respect the group members shared, the other group members decided to pay the outstanding balance of her loan. They frequently visited her during this difficult time and supported her in every way possible.

Esperance’s future plan is to buy a printer and further expand her business. The printer costs approximately US$2,143.

May the faithful Lord continue to hold her hands in her life journey and make many Esperance stories in the lives of Rwanda! - Jeffrey

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day... Liberation Day

[From top to bottom, left to right: Marching band and body section; "Kwibohora"; Well trained solidiers marching; Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi; Ugandan President Museveni; Rwandan President Kagame; Children singing a song of unity]
In Rwanda, July 1st is the Independence Day. It is the day to commemorate the independence from the Belgian colony in 1962. It must have been a meaningful day then, but not so much these days. Many people work and many business are open for business.
But not so on the day of July 4th. All businesses are closed. It is the Liberation Day.

Yeap! It is the Fourth of July, America!

This is the day that Rwandans commemorate the liberation from the genocide.

It is the official day when the RFP (Rwandan Patriotic Front) pushed the Hutu extremists or Interhwame out of Rwanda, mostly into the DR Congo's jungle and declared the victory since the genocide broke out on April 7th, 1994. Rwanda was liberated from the genocide in about 89 days and about one million lives literally slaughtered.

Today, I attended the 15th Independence Day Ceremony along with tens of thousands of Rwandans and distinguished guests. At this ceremony, Rwandan President Paul Kagame conferred the country's extreme honor medals (URUTI) to the current President of Uganda Museveni and the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia Zenawi for their contribution to the process of Rwanda's liberation in 1994. Tanzania's late president Nyerere's wife was also awarded a plaque of appreciation for the former president's contribution.

The venue was Amahoro Stadium. Amahoro means "peace" in Kinyarwanda. It symbolizes the strong desire of the people of Rwanda in their country. Peace... is a noble word. But, almost all peace treaties made in human history have been broken. There is no genuine peace in people's mind without knowing the Prince of Peace: Jesus Christ.

On the field, there were companies of Rwandan Army and the Rwandan National Policy. Their marching demonstration was impressive. Well ordered and discplined. They even showcased their combat helicopter unit flying over the stadium. The marching band's performance was also impeccable and I felt like I was watching a well trained Korean or American military showcase. Rwandan Army is known to be one the best at least in the central Africa.

All the ceremony program was well organized and conducted in a very professional manner. All people were peaceful and orderly. On the opposite section from the main covered area, people wearing Rwanda' national colored shirts displayed "Kwibohora." It means "Liberation."

One government official said to me that Rwanda was liberated from the genocide 15 years ago, but it was only the beginning of the total liberation process. He said, "Rwanda needs to be further liberated from the HIV/AIDs, chronic poverty, corruption, dependence on foreign aid etc." He looked pretty determined. He is right. I find great hope in Rwandans like him and many others who aim high for higher standard of living and higher ethical values.

The three-hour long program ended with children singing a song of unity. They all are younger than 15 years of age. They all must have been born after the genocide. They are the generation of "Rwandan", not of Hutu or Tutsi. One little child proclaimed, "Dignity is our Strength." (Ijabo Riduhe Ijambo.) Rwandan are indeed a people of dignity.

I was so glad that I attended the ceremony although it was not fun sitting in the sun with the suit on.

Umunsi Mwiza wo Kwibohora! (Happy Liberation Day!) - Jeffrey