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Making trade work for RwandaSubmitted by: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW
Overcoming these issues, as we have seen over the course of our time here, is crucial to give people the chance to work and to give their children the best start in life.
(EALING / WASHINGTON ) - The village of Gitesi lies down miles of unmade, bumpy dust tracks, three and a half hours from Rwanda’s capital. The land of a thousand hills unfolds before us, rich with banana trees, rice fields and the red dirt of the road. Here, we are a world away from the bustle of Kigali.
As part of Umubano’s Business Project I am mentoring businesspeople to grow and expand. One of several projects in the Conservatives’ social action initiative in Rwanda, our business group of MPs, MEPs, accountants, business owners and marketing strategists have worked with over two hundred companies in the past week, developing plans on running a small enterprise and holding workshops to share new ideas. After hearing so much about the handicraft trade in rural Rwanda and the problems facing the people running these small companies, I wanted to visit a business in a remote part of the country to see some of the issues for myself. Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin joined me for the trip.
The expedition to Gitesi was hosted by ActionAid, a British charity who are working in the region. ActionAid is one of 160 NGOs operating in Rwanda. Its mission is to help women empower their lives by giving them the means to lift out of poverty. In Gitesi they support a co-operative of 70 Rwandan women. Many are victims or widows from the genocide of 1994, when 1 million people were killed in their own country. Others are victims of abuse by their husbands. Most have at least three or four children to support on their own.
Many businesses in Rwanda are run as co-operatives, and the handicrafts sector is hugely important to the economy and to people’s livelihoods here. The co-operative in Gitesi makes baskets from banana leaves and converts maize into flour, but their remoteness is a genuine hurdle for them in selling their products. Since arriving in Kigali I have been working with the Rwanda Ministry of Trade and Industry to support the sector, working with groups just like this one, developing business models and helping to overcome difficulties including distance and lack of raw materials.
Overcoming these issues, as we have seen over the course of our time here, is crucial to give people the chance to work and to give their children the best start in life. In Gitesi, ActionAid is funding a pre-school facility for the children of the community. The group was so impressed with the work that ActionAid are doing in Rwanda, and we shared ideas on making businesses work more even better in such remote areas where they are already managing grow.
We go on this week to coach more businesses, hopefully even helping some to join the international market. With the government we are also working to set up a Buy Rwandan campaign to encourage domestic trade. We’ve seen some incredible initiative from businesses in our time here and I’m looking forward to seeing even more progress in Rwandan trade as time goes on.
Source: David Millican is Councillor and Conservative Group Leader in the London Borough of Ealing
Submitted by: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW; a correspondent, Assistant Editor, and Volunteer Coordinator for NGO News Africa through the volunteer project of the UN. Jennifer is also the media co-coordinator and senior funding executive for The Africa Global Village (www.africaglobalvillage.com)
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