Meeting with co-operative counsellors
Inspire and Empower 100 Women in 100 Days
A three month, ATEDEC project, 100% funded by the family and friends of Caroline Anne Argrave (Mutesi) and Rory Dillon (Rukundo) through the Global Giving website.
- To provide 100 very vulnerable women in the villages of Kagano, Karengera, Bushekeri and Ruharambuga in the Nyamasheke District of the Western Province of Rwanda with practical assistance to start small - quick turnover - businesses enabling them to improve their income.
- To provide 100 very vulnerable women in the Nyamasheke District with psychosocial support - especially trauma counselling.
Our 100 women are organised into five co-operatives - each of 20 women. Just over three months ago - in a symbolic ceremony - an equal amount of start up capital was distributed to each woman individually. A professional and experienced trauma counsellor was introduced to each co-operative.
It is the first time that a project has been designed and implemented - solely for women - in the Nyamasheke District of Rwanda. It is the first time that psychosocial support has been provided alongside practical assistance in Rwanda.
The 100 women of this project were identified as being “very vulnerable”. This is the lowest (of six) categorical statuses outlined by the government of Rwanda. They have suffered various traumatic experiences related to the genocide of 1994 including: witnessing the torture, rape and/or murder of their children, family and/or friends, being beaten, tortured and/or raped themselves, being infected with HIV/AIDS and being widowed.
At least 50 of our 100 women have been involved in prostitution which has caused them both physical and psychological damage.
All 100 women have been traumatised by extreme poverty, with an average income (prior to the start of the project) of 60 pence (less than one US dollar) per WEEK.
Group Counselling – Action Taken
Each co-operative was allocated a counsellor. The counsellors specialise in the care of women in the rural communities of Rwanda. It is actually beneficial to work with rural women in their community groups - especially at first. It is important for women in rural communities not to be singled out as this can cause discrimination and misunderstanding.
The counsellors have worked with our 100 women, four afternoons per week for the last three months.
The counsellors worked within the co-operative structure to explain to our 100 women the notion of “trauma”. It was clear that despite suffering - in many cases - extreme distress the women were unaware that they had experienced a “trauma”. They therefore, did not understand their own problematic behaviours and/or emotions or the fact that they are passing that behaviour on to their children.
The women were taught HOW to talk about the negative experiences they have had. By sharing their experiences within the co-operative groups the women learnt that they are not alone, that others have had similar experiences and that they suffer various, comparable symptoms of trauma.
Role play was used to demonstrate among the women, different negative behaviours - for example conflict in the family - caused by the effects of trauma. This has helped to develop the women’s understanding of their own behaviour and of those around them.
The counsellors also focussed on teaching the women how to repair and build relationships with their children and - if they have them - their husbands.
As individual issues were identified, each co-operative counsellor mobilised women with similar problems into small groups. The groups were then encouraged to work together to discuss their emotions and to support each other. They were taught how to listen to each other attentively. This was to enable the 100 women to continue to comfort and strengthen each other after the end of the three month project.
Group Counselling – Results
Our Field Officer (Agnes Nyirangirimana) for this project is in constant contact with the 100 women, living and working in the Nyamasheke District. She has collected measurable data monthly for four months. The in country Project Leader (Caroline Anne Argrave) has met with the 100 women on many occasions, receiving first hand reports.
The women reported to the Project Leader on the impact of group counselling. They explained that they have experienced relief, having discovered the reason for their disturbing symptoms of trauma. They now understand that their experiences - although generally exceptional - are not unique in the context of Rwanda, that other women in their community and co-operatives have suffered similar trauma. This has given them comfort. They explained that gradually they have been able to talk more and more freely and they have been able to cry. They have found this an healing experience.
The women further reported that the group counselling sessions have cemented the co-operative structures, bringing the co-operative members together so often that members have become "family". They are very fond of their counsellors. They reported that they are “extremely grateful” for the counselling support that they have received.
Door to Door Counselling – Action Taken
Over the last three months the counsellors have visited each of the 100 women in their homes. This gave the women an opportunity to discuss their issues at a deeper level. It also gave the counsellors an opportunity to observe hygiene/sanitation issues, look at kitchen gardens and check that the women are growing food for themselves, check to see if children are receiving their vaccinations and to discuss child protection issues, as well as to give information about family planning and sexual health.
77 of our 100 women are HIV positive. They fear an early death and do not know or understand their property and/or land rights. The counsellors used the door to door activity to discuss this issue with the women and to clarify theirs and their children’s rights to land and property in the event of their early death.
Door to Door Counselling – Results
The door to door counselling has been very successful. Deeper issues were identified, discussed and further support arranged. Children’s issues were highlighted and positive action taken. Practical issues within the home were identified, discussed and positive action taken. Property rights were discussed, advice and support arranged.
Start Up Capital – Action Taken
Following the distribution - just over three months ago - of start up capital, the 100 women formed themselves into small, working groups within each co-operative. They merged their individual start up capital and bought stock to sell. They sold their products in their villages, on the roads, in the markets and at bus stops.
Weaker members of co-operatives (either physically weaker or weaker in capacity) were assisted by stronger members. The Field Officer and the counsellors placed a lot of emphasis on teamwork.
They bought and sold: bananas, pineapples, passion fruit, tomatoe fruit, cassava flour, rice, beans, small fish, eggs, leafy vegetables, mangoes, tomatoes and onions.
The Field Officer and the counsellors helped and encouraged them to make good decisions. For example by buying hens instead of simply buying and selling eggs and by buying seeds to plant in their small kitchen gardens, allowing them to grow produce to sell.
Start Up Capital – Results
After just one month, every one of 100 women had made a profit. The profits increased in month two and month three. In month three, the lowest profit made was £18 GBP ($27 USD) per WEEK, the highest profit made was £48 GBP ($72 USD) per WEEK.
The women reported that they have been able to feed themselves and their families, nutrition standards have greatly improved - for example by eating eggs adding good quality protein to their diet. They have bought new clothes for themselves and their children. They have been able to pay school fees and buy school materials. They have been able to buy their children medical insurance.
Co-operatives – Action Taken
All co-operative members have put money back into their co-operative in the form of a weekly subscription of between 50 pence per week and £1 (GBP) per week (consistently) since the start of the project.
The money saved has been used to purchase co-operative members mattresses to sleep on, to buy livestock (goats, rabbits, pigs and hens) or as a micro finance loans to co-operative members.
There is a balance of funds which will be distributed evenly between the co-operatives on 26th March 2013. It will be used to provide revolving/micro finance loans to members.
Co-operatives – Results
The co-operatives are functioning, active, democratic, useful, trust building, friendship building and now self financing.
- The project is successful.
- The technique used for financial distribution was widely appreciated by the 100 women and by the local authorities.
- The women received all the money raised for them where other projects have failed.
- Preparation (in advance) to receive start up capital was crucial to the success of the project.
- Poverty has reduced - income has dramatically increased.
- The combination of psychosocial support and practical support was key to the project’s success, as well as being extremely well received and welcomed by the beneficiaries and by the local authorities.
- Symptoms of trauma have been reduced.
- Community cohesion has increased.
Co-op members their counsellor & products for sale
Co-operative member giving project feedback
Agnes, co-op members and their products