Bernadette Uwitonze is a single mother of two boys, Gentil, 7, and Chance, 14. They reside with her parents in Rutsiro district in the western region of Rwanda. For the duration of her marriage, she was living in poor conditions. Her husband would keep all the income and leave her to scramble to feed the kids. Often, her family would sleep with empty stomachs. One of her sons has mental disabilities and would often go long periods without medication. Eventually, the situation was so desperate, she had no choice but to pull the boys out of school.
For special occasions I would have to borrow clothes from a friend, this was accompanied with a shameful, anxious feeling of someone noticing and pointing it out. Bernadette says.
In Rwanda, only about half of adults have access to formal financial institutions. Unfortunately for those suffering from poverty, their main concern is where their next meal is coming from or if they have a place to rest their heads at night. They can't think about the future because they are preoccupied with trying to survive. Often childre drop out of school at an early age or don’t attend at all. They lack understanding as to how financial products can improve their lives. Savings groups have proven successful in addressing these challenges by lowering the barriers, providing access and ensuring financial services are less intimidating.
Bernadette lives in Kabiraho village where there are 13 different savings groups, with a total of 325 members (198 women and 127 men). She is a part of the Umucyo Bumba saving group. The saving group started in 2014 with 27 members (15 women and 12 men). All saving group members were trained in on a number of topics and skills including: the basics of financial literacy, saving for transformation, leadership and management of a saving group, conflict resolution, management, empowered worldviews, peacebuilding, how to protect children, the principles of advocacy, and how to create a business plan (among other things). After all those trainings, World Vision's financial entity, Vision Fund Rwanda, distributed loans to all the different savings groups. The Umucyo Bumba savings group received a loan of 2,630,000 RWF ($2,840 USD).
My whole life has changed now... I [am] able to send my sons to school. Our diets have changed because of my projects, and my son is getting all the medicine he needs.
Although she was hesitant at first, Bernadette took out a loan and bought three rabbits and then sold them for a 1,000 RWF ($1 USD) profit off of each one. She created a business opportunity for herself where she would buy chickens, rabbits, green bananas and so on from her neighbors and resell them for a profit at the bigger market places.
Over time, she has borrowed 50,000 RWF ($50 USD). Not only was she was able to pay all of it back, she also made a 70,000 RWF ($70 USD) profit.
“World Vision has given me the greatest gift ever, to be able to hope and plan for a future," she says. "Before joining the savings group, my vision could only see up to the next meal. Today, I have a plan of what I want my future to look like. Not only have I been able to provide for my family, I have also changed been able to have a positive impact on my community by employing three people per week to help me in my farming work.
I want to keep growing as a businesswoman so that I can continue to inspire those in my community to also join a savings group and take control of their lives for a positive impact.
Learn more about the work World Vision is doing in Rwanda to help families improve their abilities to provide for their needs today and in the future.