When Julienne Manikuze’s husband died of cancer, life became very hard for the mother of three. Her meagre income from selling fruit and vegetables was barely enough to get food on the table. While she did get some income from selling food in her village of Kayange in Nyagatare district, it was not enough to maintain her family and also expand her business. Her children would miss terms because a she didn’t have enough money for school fees.
Yet her life turned around when she joined other people in her community to set up the New Life group in order to work with VisionFund Rwanda (VFR), one of the country’s biggest micro-finance companies which gives small loans to poor people to improve their lives and ensure a better future for their children. The group, which today counts 20 members who have 69 children between them, consists of hardworking people who all face challenges similar to those experienced by Manikuze.
Under the impulse of VFR, they started to save some money order to help each other out, and at the same time they received basic financial training and could apply for small loans.
This was how Manikuze obtained a first VFR loan of Rwf 60,000 in 2016, and it made a world of difference. It allowed her to buy more small fish, avocado, and vegetables to sell, which gave her more income. She could also set aside money to pay back the loan. Having cleared her debt, she applied for another loan from VFR earlier this year, this time of Rwf 100,000.
But Manikuze says that already her life has completely turned around. Her children have enough to eat and never miss a day at school anymore; she has renovated the house and is also able to buy goats to sell.
“Before, I was a nobody, but today, thanks to VFR, I am somebody,” she says. “I really thank VFR for providing loans to people like me who might have no hope for a better future or of having a comfortable life.”
Such stories abound in the New Life group. For example, in 2015 the combined loans to members of the group amounted to Rwf 1,380,000, and this year they nearly tripled to Rwf 3,950,000 – which shows not only that the beneficiaries were able to pay back their initial loans, but also that they prospered so much that they are confident of taking on bigger loans. While most group members used the loans to slowly expand their business, some already managed to buy a motorcycle for transport. Many have bought plots of land or improved their houses, and all of the children are well fed, go to school and have health insurance.
For the New Life group, their name aptly describes what VFR’s help did to them.
Read this article and more in issue n° 78 of Hope Magazine.