Outside a two-roomed house in Kibeho sector of Nyaruguru district, Southern Rwanda, half a dozen men can be seen seated on wooden chairs, either repairing or just making new, black leather shoes.
These are members of “Twiteze imbere” (or “Let’s Develop Ourselves”), a ten-member cooperative born in 2009.
“These shoes constitute my livelihood”, said 22-year-old Alphonse Karangwa as he displayed a pair of black leather shoes being mended.
Karangwa, a bachelor, says he makes between Rwf 30,000 and Rwf 50,000 per month through his trade, just between $50 and $80.
“Each of us [cooperative members] has to save one thousand francs every workday which is then put on our bank account as our cooperative savings. And the money one makes everyday apart from the other one thousand francs, it becomes yours”, said Karangwa, his hands still busy with his craft.
An even compelling account for Jean Baptiste Gashugi, 42, who joined the cooperative in January.
A father to three, Gashugi spent years working single-handedly as a shoemaker in the capital Kigali’s Kimironko market from where he used to come to visit his family in Mata sector of Nyaruguru district after some months, when he thought he had collected enough money to assist them.
“When you work alone, you can easily get lazy. But that’s impossible when you work in a cooperative. Again, when you work alone, you can’t get funding. But as a cooperative, you can easily get funding and training workshops”, Gashugi explained.
“When I was still working in Kigali, I could take home half the money I had worked for because I had to deduct my meals, ticket fees to come home and pay for my rent from the very money I was taking home”, he remembers.
Today, Gashugi says working in a cooperative within his native Nyaruguru district is already paying off.
“All I get [money] out of my job gets to my family in full. My family can’t go hungry and my school children can easily get pens and notebooks”, he said.
The Kibeho-based cooperative makes a wide range of leather products like shoes, belts, purses, bags, wallets and mobile phone-carrying bags. The most expensive of its products – a men’s pair of shoes − costs Rwf 30,000 (about $50) while the least expensive – a women’s pair of shoes – costs Rwf 1,500 (about $3).
And “good” service delivery seems to be a driving force here.
“Shoes repaired here last longer and that’s why I didn’t want to wait for a shoemaker who usually comes to our school at the weekend”, said 24-year-old Dominique Ruvugabigwi, a student at the nearby “Marie Merci” high school who came to get his pair of shoes repaired.
According to George Ntarindwa, Executive Secretary of Kibeho sector, there are already plans to increase the cooperative’s members for a huge number of people to benefit.
“The problem is due to a small workplace but we [sector officials] will be doing advocacy to our partners to sort it out. And hopefully by the beginning of next year , the problem will have been worked out”, said Ntarindwa.
As Ntarindwa further put it, a number of shoemakers will be employed as “trainers” at a vocational training center to be operational in Kibeho sector in 2013. And from the center, new recruits will join the cooperative ranks.
To date, Kibeho sector has a total of 32 different cooperatives which the sector leadership says “they are already transforming the lives of their members for the better”.