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21 graduate from Mama Rwanda initiative

Group supports vulnerable single mothers

Emerance Mukasindambiwe, 30, is now a happy woman. For the last 10 months, she and a group of other 20 single mothers have been undergoing intensive training in sewing and tailoring at the Kacyiru-based Irembo Foundation project called ‘Mama Rwanda’. Their aim is to learn skills that can help them support their families.

They all finished their first round training on December 22, 2016 and all are now looking forward to beginning a new journey of their lives which is employment from March 2017. The jobs are being offered by Irembo Foundation.

The women, coming under the umbrella of Mama Rwanda Project have one common thread that connects them: they are all single mothers, not by choice but by different societal problems that drove them to the edge, and the only way they could turn their lives around to survive the vagaries of life was through their own self-determined efforts.

“I felt I was the saddest person in life during my marriage. My husband who used to beat me every day made me lead a miserable life. My days were always filled with sadness and regret to be alive. I felt like taking my own life, but the thought of leaving my children behind always restrained me,” says Mukasindambiwe.

But now with a smile on her lips and colour on her face, she proudly says Mama Rwanda Project has rescued her from her hopeless despair by giving her the skills to optimistically face the future.

“Having been a part of Mama Rwanda sewing program, I can now have hope that in the near future, I’m going to make enough money to feed my children and take them to school,” says the mother of three.

Beatrice Mukandoli’s life mirrors that of Mukasindambiwe. The 33-year old woman is also a mother of three young children. She’s also a victim of domestic violence.

“My marriage life was tortuous,” she says, “My violent husband who used to physically and emotionally abuse me eventually run away with another woman, leaving me alone with the children. I had no job, and I had to pay for house rent and provide for our basic needs. I did odd jobs, until Mama Rwanda Project came along to offer me sanctuary and hope I desperately needed to survive,” she narrates.

She says she received skills she never dreamed she would have, so the future is now looking bright for her.

The story of Maria Umwali, a 24-year old mother of two is no different. She dropped out of school at a young age because of pregnancy.

“My life was miserable before I came to Mama Rwanda. I had lost all hopes of becoming something in life, that I would amount to anything,” she says.

Mama Rwanda is one of six projects run by Irembo Foundation, a brainchild of Bertrand Ishimwe, a genocide survivor, and cofounder of Niyo Arts Center. Ishimwe cofounded Niyo with his elder brother, Pacifique Niyonsenga, himself a former street boy.

Ishimwe’s parents had to flee to DRC during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, but they came back when the country was liberated and Ishimwe was born one month later in August.

But coming back, he tells The Independent, the parents found all their property looted. They had to settle into indigence and poverty since they had no jobs.

Ishimwe, having dropped out of school at some point, found a benefactor called who took him to Lycee de Kigali, from where he graduated in 2015 with PCM (Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics) and later established Irembo in the year 2013.

His goal was to “to offer a helping hand the way I had also been helped”.

During their 10 month training sessions, the 21 mothers (they were originally 25 but four dropped out because of various reasons), the single mothers managed to forge a close-knit support group, whereby for one hour every Thursdays and Sundays between 5 and 6pm, they would gather together to share their life stories, children management, and their marriage hardships.

The sessions proved to be therapeutic for some of them.

Gaudence Niragire, 31, and a mother of two explains: “Before I came here, I was living the life of a recluse. I never liked people since I felt they were different, that they were living a good life while mine was opposite. But when I started interacting with fellow women undergoing similar circumstances, I opened up and started interacting with other people”.

During the interactive sessions, the mothers also learned home skills from each such as managing children, money management, and experience of single motherhood.

As they look forward to their new jobs, the women appear determined to leave the shadows of their dark past behind. With the responsibility of taking care of their family and the skills they have learned at Mama Rwanda project, Mukasindambiwe and her group say they are determined to march confidently towards the future.

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