Rwanda – indeed Africa’s pearl. The land of 1000 hills has captured my heart. We started our day in opportunitys hq with the staff gathered for their morning devotion. What a perfect way to start the day & this trip. I was truly moved by the spirit that filled the room. The lesson & reading was of Genesis 47, where Joseph teaches the people to save, as there will be 7 yrs of feast followed by 7 yrs of famine. Joseph established the law in Egypt of putting 1/5 of their produce or income aside. The lesson to the staff was poignant & through out the day it was made clear the importance of every farmer & market client doing the same.
We met rice farmers in cooperatives on their 1st loan cycle & merchants in the market on their 24th loan cycle. All were appreciative of the difference their loans, however tiny, were making. A 30 yr old woman, who’s name I didn’t understand, was introduced to us, selling coal, behind the public latrines & next to the rubbish dump. She was a true success story. Her loan enabled her to by wood to make & sell coal. Her profits enabled her to buy a cow (£900 Frisian import) which produces 10 litres of milk per day, vs the cheaper domestic cow that could only yield 1 litre per day. Then she invested in a motor bike which was used as a taxi. She had 2 kids. A true business lady. Not my first thought as we were led to her rather sorry, dirty spot behind the main market. The day was filled with women like her.
Inspirational and impressive. A day full of great impressions! The landscape is captivating. There’s an order & cleanness unlike anywhere I’ve been in Africa. The people are smiling yet slightly reserved. I feel completely safe and at ease. Can’t wait til tomorrow for more impressions. Factoid of the day: as we are in the equator the earth is moving at 1000 mph rather than 600 mph in London. Should we be dizzy? Either way it seems that things even out as not much gets done faster apart from the drinks at the pool bar this pm. Very impressive. The rest if the day much of the time was spent just waiting. Getting our balance perhaps?
When I first moved to the UK last year I was surprised by the number of times the media, and the people I met, would refer to the War. Nearly 70 years after the conclusion of WW2 it still impacts the way people live. Here in Rwanda, with only 18 years to distance the pain of war, not many talk about what happened but you can see it affecting nearly everything they do – how they interact, and how they live. A woman named Anitalia shared her story with us today. We met her at her fabric stall in the market, she’s been with Opportunity since 1998. What brought her into the bank 14 years ago was the sudden loss of her husband during one of the many post war insurgence in her area. With his death she not only lost her life long companion but also her stability and security. Anitalia, her 7 children and one more on the way, had to cope not only emotionally but financially with his death.
Thankfully, Anitalia is a fighter and worked hard despite her grief, using her first loan of US$50 to buy beans to sell on the side of the street. After several more loan cycles she was able to buy some land, and after a few more, a few cows. She then built a house for her family and continues to diversify, renting a stall in the market to sell waxed batik which she buys in Kigali and sells in her village. That was where we met her. A smiling, happy, successful business woman who had managed to provide for herself and her children. There’s a photo here of her making a sale to one of our team, Dorthe. Anitalia’s laughing and I know she’s proud of where she is today.
What an incredible day. Beginning with the most amazing coffee I had ever experienced at breakfast – working on a way to bring a supply of beans home with me! We arrived at the bank in time for the devotion – a lovely service which takes place every Monday and Friday to begin and end the week. The music and singing was so beautiful and the service created a great feeling of peace and community.
We arrived at an agricultural cooperative who were working with their first OI loan. Meeting with the trust leaders and hearing their ambitions and plans really underlined for me the importance of empowering these people to become self sufficient. They not only work the land they lease from the local government, but to improve efficiency they employ people to help with weeding and even to scare birds away from the crops! The group has employed a agronomist who is testing 100 different varieties of rice on the land to determine which is best for their land conditions. It is this forward thinking that is so powerful to me. Seeing these beautiful people who have so little materially but such ambitious plans for the future for them and their families, all made possible by the opportunity to borrow a relatively small amount, is very motivational.
The fields were separated by a road, along which a group of children were walking home from school. There were cars, motorbikes and trucks speeding by with these little children walking along the shoulder of the road. The over-protective mother in me really had to take a deep breath. The children were stunning and so clever. I asked to see their schoolbooks and they were rightly proud to share them with me. They all learn English and their lesson books were beautifully neat. As they skipped off I realised the future of this country is so bright and positive, even after the tragic recent past.
Dorthe mentioned the coal lady; I believe her name is Valentina. The image of her posing for our photographs with her young banker will stick in my mind. Her batik wax print dirty from the coal contrasting with his smart tailored suit; both under thirty, a world apart seemingly; yet I would like to think that they represent the future of Africa, or at least Rwanda. She is street-smart and a confident entrepreneur who needed the opportunity the university-educated banker provided, great to see it succeeding; inspiring for me and, hopefully, for others.
Land of thousand hills it is! Green, lush, rich and orderly. Hard to think of all the horror that went on here for 100 days eighteen years ago; it is the anniversary at the moment and the local press is full of testimonies and acts of remembrance. Hard to grasp.
As Dorthe said, we started our morning with the main branch devotions… Back to basics: “why should we save?”. The answer was of course: “for the day we won’t be able to provide for ourselves”. The whole notion of wealth gets back to this. When we sit and listen to these people, I can’t help thinking of our consumer society… Well, watching them and witnessing their entrepreneurship gets us thinking. Especially, when John Magnay (Opportunity’s Agricultural Finance expert) sets the objective at the level of Africa: “Africa should feed itself”. Seeing farmers at work, with plots of land not bigger than 10 by 10 meters, casts a very practical light on the theories we have in the West on the subject. A few hours of conversations can’t really fit here, but we opened our eyes and ears.
As previously, I end my day truly moved by the energy and self-esteem of Rwanda’s people: they step on a ladder (Urwego – as the UOG (opportunity’s name here in Rwanda: Urwego Opportunity Bank) name indicates- means ‘ladder’) and are proud to repay their loans and grow their business. I was impressed by the beautiful tailor woman who had young men sewing on her 4 machines, and she had trained some of her employees so that they could start their own business. Obviously, it feels good here tonight. A demain.