Channel Eye has got together with the Comic Relief and Jersey Overseas Aid teams to understand some of the great work undertaken. Today we meet Sifa.
Niyonsenga is a Rwandan woman whose husband is a refugee who fled the conflict in Burundi in 2015. They met in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, but he had to settle in Mahama Refugee Camp, so Niyonsenga joined him there in 2017. They have three children.
“The first thing I saw in myself was the courage to say that what can a man do, I can also do.”
Niyonsenga is one of the participants of the UNCDF Financial inclusion programme that was introduced in the camp to enable the refugee community to easily access financial services for their socio-economic development. She joined the programme in 2020 and now she has been able to expand her shop that sells clothes, bags and bedding. Through the programme she was trained in business management, which helped her increase her profits.
The biggest source of Niyonsenga’s joy is her family’s health and happiness. And that’s possible thanks to her work as a businesswoman. She believes more women should put themselves in positions traditionally taken by men:
“Obstacles prevent women in the camp from progressing. So this is something that I see as a challenge that a woman often has. A woman who minimises her potential, a woman who is afraid of saying that I can’t do these things as men do – that I can’t go into business because I am a woman and my job is raising children and staying with children – that’s the poor mindset that affects women in general. So I came to the conclusion that this should not be the case for me. The first thing I saw in myself was the courage to say that what can a man do, I can also do. So I came up with ideas and now, I am progressing.”
Niyonsenga tells us her story, in her own words
“My name is Niyonsenga, I am 25 years old, born in Butare (Southern Province, Rwanda), and I have a husband and three children.
“I married a Burundian refugee who first lived in Kigali but life was difficult for us, and the time came when all refugees were required to move to the camp. So, my husband had to move here to Mahama refugee camp and that’s how I came here and life goes on.
I sell clothes, especially for babies such as baby clothes, baby grows and other items related to women like women’s handbags, school bags, and bed covers. We had started out in the food business, and later we found that the food business is not going well, so I talked to my husband to see if we can change to the baby clothing business.
When you think about a project you want to make money from… start with a small amount of money, and as time goes by, the more life goes on and you find the investment has increased.
I had already gone bankrupt… I told my husband that we have to change from the food business. We decided to use Rwf 150,000 to start a new business. This amount of money came from the savings that I had already made in the village loan and savings group.
So came the plan to help pus do our business better. We started with Umutanguha Finance Company Ltd (UFC), and I continued to work, earning the profits and depositing in the UFC, and then we became active clients until we applied for a loan.
When I reached out to the Bank Manager I was offered a loan because they had previously trained us on Business Management and they told us that the loan was given to us so we can expand our business.
After getting a loan, we started with an investment of Rwf 350,000. Then my husband went and brought baby covers, bed sheets, cover beds, the bags, baby clothes and we worked hard to gain more. Today if you look at our investment, you will see that the profit is really there. Now I am done with paying back the loan and all these products are mine. So far my business can be valued at about Rwf 1 million (approx. £800).
Even though I do this business, my husband also helps me. He has a job. He works in Kigali as a gardener.
Even though life is difficult in the camp, life goes on. My children are well off, the little ones are in at early childhood development level (ECD) and now the only older one is in primary school and the administration is helping us so that our children get free education.
As for the money that is being spent on my family, it is for food, buying milk for children, you see that. Young children need to drink milk, they need fruits, and you see that the my children are really healthy.
Obstacles prevent women in the camp from progressing. So this is something that I see as a challenge that a woman often has. A woman who minimises her potential, a woman who is afraid of saying that I can’t do these things as men do – that I can’t go into business because I am a woman and my job is raising children and staying with children – that’s the poor mindset that affects women in general. So I came to the conclusion that this should not be the case for me. The first thing I saw in myself was the courage to say that what can a man do, I can also do. So I came up with ideas and now, I am progressing.
Now that I’ve talked to my husband, we think we’re going to get a loan again and continue to expand our business. My goal is to make it easier for the average customer to find what they need. That is my goal. I want to bring exactly what customers need.
What I am happy about is that life has changed, and my children have changed too. Before I started my business, I couldn’t afford to buy milk for all my children. Before I started, I used to say that I would buy milk only for the small one, but now they all get the right food.”
Emmanuel, 38, Project Manager
“I am in charge of coordinating activities of Umutanguha Finance in Mahama refugee camp and Kirehe district.
We started to work with the UNCDF program in July 2019. UNCDF is partnering with Umutanguha Finance Company Ltd to help refugees and their neighbours access financial services.
Through the UNCDF project, I am a loan officer, but I also do branch management. In the Mahama branch, my job is to provide loans and follow up on repayments. I am in charge of daily monitoring, mobilisation, clients, project management, advising them in case of failure and all the work related to the support is in my hands.
First of all, because refugees have little or no means, some lack the basic skills in creating and managing financial resources. So, we start by offering them a financial literacy training. This training is available to all of our clients in refugee and host communities.
After training them, we show them the different banking services that are customised for their needs and make them feel there is a way to save, invest, and run a business that would lift them out of poverty. The bigger banks are reluctant to allow them to open accounts due to the lack of identification papers, so we have helped them to open accounts with only refugee registration proof.
We also introduce them to the different loan products that are tailored to their means. They are our customers and as a development focused financial institution, we do not want our client to be poor. We teach them about loan access and its management and when someone needs a loan, we approach them and help them to learn the basics, give them a small loan related to their capacity and even monitor them, from the beginning to the end of the loan to see if the loan is well used and repaid.
We started a digital banking (push and pull mobile banking) system to help our clients connect their mobile phones with their bank accounts, enabling them to use their mobile phones to save, withdraw, and transfer money without leaving their businesses or homes.
Withdrawing money from the account is free and saving money is free. With the technology that we use, people can save, withdraw, and get a message on their phone, whether it’s from the action they’ve done right at the moment, whether it’s from their accounts.
We use the Push and Pull Mobile banking system so that when someone has a phone they can withdraw money from their account and do it all with camp based agents instead of going to the branch.
The services of Umutanguha Finance Company Ltd are appreciated: we have solved a lot of problems in this camp. Refugees have always had problems with the law enforcements in the camp due to stolen money and cases of destroyed banknotes due to lack of bank saving facilities – in addition to a lot of cash mismanagement and wastage. Such problems have declined thanks to our financial services among these refugee communities.
We have had more than 3,000 customers in a year and a half.
Challenges and changes
In the beginning, people outside the camp claimed that the bank was a refugee bank, but citizens were not denied access to the services we provided, and as soon as we realised that there could be a conflict, we immediately set up a branch outside the camp – refugees were allowed to come to the branch and local citizens as well.
But for sure the poor Telecom networks sometimes affect our services.
Some refugees are not using mobile banking because many people in this camp do not have a refugee ID, only proof papers. To get a sim card for the mobile phones they should get a refugee ID.
So, you can see that this is a challenge – for telecommunications companies and licensors to face – so we can offer everyone all services.”
Project/Funded partner summary:
One of the areas United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) focuses on is achieving promoting inclusive digital economies. Through the partnership with Jersey Overseas Aid, funding has been provided to UNCDF under the Branching Out: Financial Inclusion at the Margins programme to deliver basic financial services and provide financial and digital education to displaced people in refugee camps in Rwanda like Mahama, the largest refugee camp in the country. Men area also invited to participate but the particular focus is on empowering women and young people through this work.
UNCDF introduce refugees to standardised practices for saving groups in humanitarian contexts, and empowers them to use digital saving platforms to improve their financial management activities. Through four implementing partners, they also provide business and entrepreneurship training to refugees.
The aim of this programme is to increase access to and usage of safe, affordable and convenient financial services by refugees in these camps. By increasing refugees digital and financial literacy, the project aims to increase confidence in using digital financial services and ultimately works towards reducing poverty, supporting local economic development and increasing financial inclusion.
Photos credit: Serrah Galos, Comic Relief.