How a women's cooperative has transformed lives in Rwanda | ActionAid UK

In Rwanda, mothers like Emerance struggle to find enough work to feed their families. British MP Jeremy Lefroy joined ActionAid UK staff to visit one of our projects in Muko, northern Rwanda, to see how ActionAid support has changed the lives of women and children living there. 

Emerance farming potatoes, grown by her and her cooperative.
Emerance farming potatoes, grown by her and her cooperative.

In this part of Rwanda, hunger used to be a big problem  so, thanks to funding from the Big Lottery Fund, ActionAid gave a group of women the money they needed to set up their own cooperative scheme, and Cooperative Hugukirwa Muko was born. The women do a number of activities, such as growing potatoes and weaving baskets that they can then sell for money. ActionAid also provided training in basic business skills to help the women maximise their income so they can afford to feed their families and invest in more tools to expand their business.

Jeremy Lefroy, Conservative MP for Stafford and a member of a Parliamentary Committee that looks at how to tackle poverty overseas, recently came to see the cooperative with us, along with his wife Janet. Jeremy leads Project Umubano, the Conservative Party’s International Social Action project in Rwanda, Burundi and Sierra Leone – and was keen to find out more about ActionAid’s work.

Emerance digging Irish potatoes, Rwanda

The cooperative has changed Emerance's life

While there we had the chance to meet some of the women involved in the cooperative, and I was inspired to hear how their joint business venture has made such a difference to them. 

Emerance is more recent member of the cooperative. She has two children: Damien, four, and her adopted son, Michel, 14.

Emerance said the cooperative has changed her life:

“I first got involved with the cooperative when a local lady called Philomen reached out to me. She asked if I’d like to go and work on her behalf while she was pregnant. She offered to babysit Damien while I went to the cooperative. Then, when she came back after having her baby, the cooperative kept both of us, making me a fully-fledged member. They really liked me and were very happy with my work.

"To start us off, each woman is given a pig. That pig was so helpful to me when I was building the house. I sold it and I got money to support the building.

Our cooperative has come a long way. We have bought a garden and land for 2,000,000 KRW (around £1,850) and we are preparing to plant a banana plantation."

Emerance weaving a basket, Rwanda

“We do lots of things in the cooperative. Sometimes we dig potatoes, tend the gardens, or weave baskets. My cut enables me to buy food for my family and pay for my son’s schooling.

"Life in a cooperative is so much better. That’s why we have now trained 30 other young cooperatives to be strong and I’m always encouraging people to join cooperatives. For me it’s a happy place – everyone needs happiness."

Jeremy's visit

Jeremy was impressed by the success of the project. He told us: “The women’s cooperative, supported by ActionAid, has done a superb job in designing, building and running the nursery with the livestock farm alongside.

Jeremy Lefroy visiting the local school in Muko, Rwanda

“In my work in developing countries over the past twenty-five years, I have seen how important it is to support people as they sustain livelihoods and create jobs. This is integral to the work of ActionAid.”

Jeremy Lefroy with a women's cooperative in Rwanda

Get involved

Governments around the world together have the power to put a stop to poverty and hunger. Showing MPs our projects overseas is a great way to get them to see first-hand what it is like to live in poverty and to encourage them to take action to help people like Emerance. 

Find out more about how you can encourage your MP to fight poverty by becoming part of ActionAid's community campaigner netowork.

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