Like almost anyone anywhere, the people of Ndego have dreams they long to realize. These dreams are particularly felt as it was not even two years ago they were forced out of Tanzania and arrived as repatriated refugees in Rwanda with little other than the shirts on their backs.
In Tanzania, most were cattle herders where there was ample land to make a decent living from raising cows. They now live on the edge of Akagera National Park, where a shortage of both land and resources makes recreating their old livelihoods impossible.
But as the people of Ndego adapt to their new surroundings, so do their dreams.
Emmanuel Twagirumukia is the Economic Security Officer for CARE Rwanda and his job is to help the repatriates realize their new dreams. He provides workshops that teach the value of financial planning and encourage local business development. By teaching the residents how to use credit, they are able to pursue potential income-generating activities while creating the possibility to eventually save money.
He began the Village Savings and Loans Programme in Ndego in April 2008. After a series of teaching sessions, Emmanuel facilitated the formation of associations each made up of 15 to 30 people. An association is jumpstarted by the collective contributions of each member, who saves approximately 50 to 200 Rwandan francs ($0.10 to $0.40 US) a week for a few months. The elected leaders of each association collect the money from everyone and then together they decide what the first investment will be. To date, 16 associations have been formed and produce a range of items from hand-woven baskets to honey to handmade soap.
Any member can apply for a loan from the association if he or she has a proposed activity that will generate income. The credit works like it would in a bank where the funds are loaned with interest.
And like applying for credit, anyone can initiate the formation of an association. However, as Emmanuel mentioned earlier, CARE specifically targets women.
“We encourage women to pursue their own economic activities so that they may come to make more decisions in the household.”
Yet the only way these trades can become a sustainable source of income for the people of Ndego is to secure markets where they can sell their products.
“We need both advocacy and advertising so that we can expand our markets, particularly our export market,” said Emmanuel.
Advertising is one way to attract people to the hand woven baskets, handbags, floor mats, handmade soaps, and the fresh honey and milk. Another way is attract tourists to the villages to see first-hand the way these crafts are made.
CARE has informal partnerships with stakeholders who aim to develop tourism in Ndego, a future that can provide long-term solutions and support for the emergent markets CARE has helped the residents develop.
For example, Kigali-based social enterprise development company New Dawn Associates (NDA) recently began working with the people of Ndego to develop a project of community-based tourism. The association is working towards bringing tourists who visit Akagera National Park into Ndego for a day trip to see the village life and the development of local crafts and trades.
Visitors are not only a potential market to sell the goods people of Ndego produce, but also, a substantial portion of the money they pay as a tourist package will be handed over to the village, contributing to a community fund for locally decided development projects.
Emmanuel said that CARE encourages the residents of Ndego to be excited about tourism.
“It gives them a purpose to hone their skills and also hope for a secure market for their items which will ultimately be part of a long-term development solution.”