After losing her leg to a landmine, Jeanne was stigmatised and left begging on the streets of the Rwandan capital Kigali to support herself. But with the support of a CBM programme, Jeanne, now 55, has overcome these hardships to become a respected businesswoman.
“I wished I had died”
It was the Rwandan genocide of 1994 that began the misery which spread across Jeanne’s life. She was on her way home to her parents’ house with her 3-year-old daughter, Beatha.
“The area was a war zone,” Jeanne recollects. “Many people were fleeing the on-going fighting despite the presence of landmines.” She stepped on one of them hidden in the ground.
It’s a miracle she and Beatha survived, but Jeanne lost her right leg which had to be amputated; and her daughter has experienced mental health problems since the explosion.
“At that time I wished I had died. I stayed with the Red Cross for approximately a year,” Jeanne told us. “Then I went to the Central Hospital of Kigali for 3 years for physiotherapy, where I also received a prosthesis.”
During those terrible times in Rwanda, Africa, Jeanne felt she had no choice but to end her marriage, leaving her divorced and penniless.
“I opted to go to my parents’ home,” says Jeanne. “After leaving Central Hospital of Kigali I had nothing to support my family, no money to buy food. So I started begging in the streets of Kigali.” What made it worse, she remembers, is that “People used to stigmatise me, calling me a ‘kimuga’, meaning something like a broken jug, someone who is nothing.”
Never a “broken jug” again
These humiliating experiences only came to an end when Jeanne heard about the NUDOR and CBM supported Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in Gasabo district, her home area.
“I only stopped begging in 2015, when I heard about VSLA. It is better for me to take a loan than to go and beg.”
After four weeks as a member of the savings group, which helps people with disabilities, she was able to ask for an advance to grow and sell tomatoes. Members discussed the idea and, to Jeanne’s relief, agreed.
“I produce tomatoes with the loan and am able to buy pesticides”, says Jeanne proudly. “I have so many tomatoes. I can also use the loan to hire manpower to cultivate the field. I know the yield will be enough to get a good return and pay off the loan.”
CBM building livelihoods
Each savings group in Rwanda registers with CBM’s partner NUDOR, the National Union of Disability Organisations in Rwanda. “People with disabilities often face huge difficulties when they ask a bank for a loan”, explains Emile Cadet Vuningabo from NUDOR. “Many bank employees just don’t know what disabled humans can achieve when given a chance,” he says.
As well as collecting money from savings groups to transfer into bank accounts,
NUDOR supports the groups in many other ways. Their mentors for example, spread business knowledge by coaching and training members of the savings groups which complements advice given within the groups.
The future can be better
Jeanne’s life is still not easy. Her daughter Beatha, at 25 years old, continues to have problems while her mother, Valerie, has a physical disability affecting her knees. Jeanne herself needs a new prosthesis, which is very expensive. But she is optimistic. Jeanne plans to buy a goat with the profits from her tomato crop and expand her farming activities further to buy the new prosthesis.
Her self-confidence and pride are returning. She has for some time been the Chairperson of the savings group.
“I will continue with the savings group programme,” she says. “Now, people call me a person with a disability, not someone who is nothing. Now, the future is better.”