As in many nations, the rural population is somewhat conservative and old fashioned. This applies to many of our community around Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda. Children that have been born out of wedlock are scorned and their mothers (not the fathers), are rejected by their own parents and evicted from the family home. This leads, obviously, to hardship and extreme poverty which in turn means the rejected girls turn to prostitution as a form of survival and inevitably to further children. It is a downward spiral that is often hard to reverse.
Emanuelle, a Rwandan guide for the Rwanda Development Board of gorilla trekking, comes from a similarly poor family but with strong a desire to ‘give back’ from his, now relatively wealthy position, formed a group called Muhisimbi (loosely translatable to mean ‘Make Sweet Again’) – to both protect and assist these unfortunate girls. Family planning advice as well as assistance to get back into the system and realise their self-worth, has given many of these girls a second chance in life. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is proud, with the financial help of our generous donors, to have been able to help with the establishment of the Turengerubuzima Sewing Centre and provide them with alternative paths in life, by giving them the means to provide for themselves.
We now support over 90 women who use the facility on a rotational basis to earn a living and supplement their other earnings. A parallel organisation had developed into a sewing school turning, out young women with a trade and qualification to successfully enter the national job market. We are extremely proud of the women’s achievements and enormously grateful for the assistance we have received from so many generous donors. We are working towards making the center fully self-sufficient by providing orders for face masks for those who can’t afford them. Reusable sanitary pads, to assist young girls from the area attend school while indisposed, is another of our initiatives.
Below you can read the story as told to me by Chantal, who is one of the ladies currently supported by the sewing project. Her daughter is just six year’s old!
“I had a very hard time since I was 10 years old; my father killed my mother because of our family issues. After my mother died, my father was prisoned. Later he was released but due to shame he never come back home. I took care of my 5 brothers and sisters. Six years later I had an unwanted pregnancy during my orphan life. By chance, l joined the Muhisimbi family which makes me happy that l got another family – especially the other girls as we share the same life. Muhisimbi built again my life!
Muhisimbi opened my mind and I realised that l can do anything to develop myself and my family as we are ashamed by Daddy’s action. After my Muhisimbi entrepreneurship talk, l decided to start a small business of selling greens in my village. And now some people in my village, and some of my neighbours, give me their destroyed clothes; I fix them and they pay me. Sewing now is my future focus and I am glad to be part of Muhisimbi and its beneficiaries”
Chantel has a huge toothy grin and a laugh that makes the room laugh with her! I am in awe or her tenacity.
By Philip Mason, Manager of Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Rwanda.