Francine is 40 years old and a graduate of the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme in Rwanda. She is the mother of six children (two girls and four boys) and lives with her husband in Nyaruguru District.
Adolescence is always difficult, but for Francine it was the time when two family members died, when she fled her country as a refugee and when she started work so she could pay the school fees for her siblings. Married by the age of 19, she was soon struggling to support her husband, to work and to care for her six children.
In 1994, my older sister and my father passed away due to sickness on March 15th and 16th respectively. They got sick suddenly. We were shocked. We thought life would never be good again after my father passed away. I couldn’t imagine how my mother would take care of eight children.
Then the genocide began. When our district was attacked our family got separated. I ran away with my three-year-old sister on my back.
We walked to a river near the border of Burundi and the rest of our family joined us the next day. We had to cross the water to get to safety, but there were no boats. We walked across the river as the bodies of those killed in the genocide floated around us. We were all sick and tired.
We sought safety in a refugee camp, but the camp wasn’t clean. The water and food were dirty. Many people got sick and died. In May, we heard things were calmer back at home, so we decided to return.
Before the genocide, I used to go to school. When we came back, there were no schools. The school buildings were empty, so we took shelter in one of them as our house had been burnt down.
My older sister and I decided to work instead of returning to education. After a while we moved to a housing project. My younger siblings went back to school. We were buying sorghum to brew beer and paid school fees after selling our products. In 1997, my sister got married. After her, in 1998, I married one of our neighbours. I was 19 years old.
My husband had no one. He had had eight siblings. They were all killed. His parents were also killed. It was difficult for him to heal. He had a lot of trauma. I went with him to pick up the bones of his family members.
He was the only survivor among 33 members of his nuclear and extended family who lived near each other. We went through a counselling programme offered by the government and slowly he got better.
I learnt about Women for Women International in 2013. By then, I had six small children back-to-back and no hope. I didn’t know about birth control. I didn’t have a support system; my husband didn’t have any relatives. I didn’t know how to manage my children and work, so I didn’t have an income. I had to ask my husband for everything.
At Women for Women International, I learnt about family planning. It wasn’t easy for me to go to the training because I had to look after my children, but it helped when I started saving my stipend. I saved one third of it and used the rest to buy things we needed around the house. My husband was happy about my contribution.
I learnt beekeeping through the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme.
I lived close to the beekeeping farm, so I had the opportunity to learn everything about honey and bees. I graduated in 2014 and joined a cooperative. Every month our cooperative of 32 members sells 80 kilos of honey. All the members of our cooperative are graduates of our programme, except for four male members. We split the money and are now working on selling candles and soap.
We also have a savings group, so I put some of my money there. I am saving money to buy health insurance for my entire family and for my children’s schooling. I hope my children will have the chance to go to university. I am glad I’m part of a saving groups because I can ask for loans if my children need it for school fees.
When we started beekeeping, the community thought the bees would die because women are taking care of them.
They asked us why we didn’t choose a different skill. Now, we are so successful they want to join our cooperative. Then they thought women were too dumb to keep bees, now they see the president of our cooperative is a woman and even four male members work under her.
I love beekeeping, so I want to teach my children this skill. My oldest is now 18. I want to raise money and buy my own honey production tools, so I can do it at home and teach my children.
The women who have gone through the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations programme and the ones who haven’t are two different people. Before Women for Women International, women stayed at home.
After the programme, [women] took the initiative to go to the market and buy and sell.
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