Strength in Unity: How One Rwandan Community is Overcoming Poverty

These caregivers in Rwanda have created a thriving soapmaking business!

soap making

Two years ago, the caregivers of children supported through a Compassion project in Rwanda formed a savings and credit cooperative. Called Abishyize Hamwe – meaning “unity is strength” in Kinyarwanda – the cooperative’s aim is to combat poverty by pooling resources and investing in its members.

In 2018, Compassion project staff trained the group in soapmaking to generate income. The money the members earned from selling their products would then be distributed to other members in the form of small loans.

Ladies making soap

For Compassion UK, this was a different venture to traditional child sponsorship. Instead of supporting and providing opportunity one child at a time, working with Abishyize Hamwe had the potential to impact their families and the broader community directly.

Thanks to generous donations from UK supporters, Compassion has been funding such projects through our Interventions programme for many years.

Compassion Interventions: Your giving in action

Complementing the work of our child sponsorship programme, Compassion Interventions invest donations to transform communities in six broad areas – access to water and sanitation, access to better health outcomes, housing security, education and training, child protection and child survival.

We are so thankful that in the past five years UK donors have funded 188 interventions helping 296,376 people. Their support has:

•   Constructed 60 toilet blocks
•   Given more than 3,500 babies a better start in life
•   Built 58 new homes
•   Taught 15,579 people income-generating skills
•   Trained 29,618 children and their caregivers in child protection
•   Distributed 32,683 mosquito nets

Abishyize Hamwe these days

“Today, we have group savings worth 1.5 million Rwf (£1,146) but 1.1 million Rwf (£841) has been loaned to members,” says cooperative member, Claudine.
The group meets once a week and each contributes 500 Rwf (£0.38), which is used to buy the raw materials needed to make the liquid soap and petroleum jelly.

However, its impact is far more than financial.

“When we meet, we don’t only talk about the money we are saving. We also pray together, counsel each other, and support one another emotionally. We also give each other the liquid soap at no cost,” Claudine explains.

A global pandemic: For such a time as this

When COVID-19 hit, the cooperative became busier than ever.

Soap making initiative

The group began producing at least 60 litres of liquid soap each week and 400 packs of petroleum jelly each month. Besides helping the group earn an income, Claudine says the liquid soap has helped them to boost hygiene and sanitation, which plays a big role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in their community.
“After learning about the Ministry of Health guidelines that washing hands prevents COVID-19, we started to distribute the liquid soaps we make to our fellow caregivers, church members, and other community members to help in the fight against COVID-19," says Claudine.

Impact on the broader community

Romain, a Compassion Rwanda project director, says the soap is helping to keep their community free from the virus.

“We have not registered any case of COVID-19 amongst our caregivers and community because our members are washing their hands frequently using the liquid soap that is made by our caregivers,” he shares.

“The parents joined their efforts to form a cooperative to release themselves out of poverty and this one has become a weapon in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic as they produce hygienic material. The caregivers that are not in the cooperative get the liquid soap at a lower price compared to the market price."

Their children are extremely proud of their parents' efforts. Claudine's daughter, nine-year-old Kevine, is part of the Child Sponsorship Programme and says her mother's soap smells wonderful.

Kevine's Mother

“I like the soap mother makes," she says. "We use it to wash our hands, wash plates, cups, and our clothes and we become clean."

Future business plans

The group's success so far as inspired them to take their business even further. They plan to have a soap-making factory in the future to provide jobs to their community members.

Looking for more opportunities to help transform families and communities?

Whether you want to support Abishyize Hamwe, or are interested in other projects, contact us here to see how your support can help provide families and communities with a better future.

Discover more about Interventions

WORDS : Agnes Wilson, Christian Abayisenga

PHOTOS : Compassion International



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