Young, energetic and visionary – Welcome to the country of a thousand hills and a million smiles

By Katrin Glatzel

DSC_0198I have just returned from Rwanda. Now back in London, sitting in my office, I still feel captured by the energy and enthusiasm that emanated from all those young people we met during our visit. Rwanda, a small, land-locked country in Eastern Africa not bigger than Belgium or Switzerland, has a population of roughly 11million (in 2014), with the majority younger than 19 years old and 72% living in rural areas. With 460 people per km² Rwanda is twice as densely populated as Switzerland, and nearly as mountainous! Rwanda has the aftermath of the genocide to overcome, but it is remarkable seeing young people in particular seize opportunities for themselves and their communities. They are helping the country get on its feet again, by contributing to its economic growth and prosperity.

A Tuesday morning in February in Rwanda 

As we get into our car and make our way through the morning rush hour traffic in Kigali heading north, what strikes me is not only how tidy and organised the city is, but also the number of young people, men and women, going about their work and daily business.

The drive takes us through windy roads and stunning landscapes. 100km and 2.5 hours later we arrive at Musanze District near the borders of Uganda and the DRC, where we are spending the day with TechnoServe to learn more about their STRYDE program (Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise). Through STRYDE TechnoServe supports young people in rural areas to get their business ideas off the ground and become successful entrepreneurs. The programme provides training on business management skills, financial literacy and personal development for a period of three months; upon completion of the training, TechnoServe supports the STRYDE graduates to develop sound business plans and facilitates access to loans, through for example the BDF.

Garlic is good for business – or “Jackson’s Vision 2020” 

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Jackson Fatirakumutima

Our first stop takes us to Jackson Fatirakumutima’s farm. Jackson is a 27 year old STRYDE graduate. After the initial three month training, he received US$ 770 as loan to start his business, growing Irish potatoes. When his business proved successful, he received a second loan of around US$900 and started growing garlic. The garlic business seems very lucrative – at US$7 per kilogram at the farmgate, Jackson’s garlic is sold to buyers in Kigali through brokers who visit him at his farm. In fact, Jackson has been so successful, that in addition to the 1 hectare of land he already owns he was now able to rent another hectare at US$300 per year to grow additional crops such as potatoes, tree tomatoes and cassava. And during harvest time he is able to employ ten people to help him on the farm. As we speak it starts to rain and we rush inside his house; he quickly grabs the garlic so that it doesn’t get wet. We ask him about his plans and how old his children are (we hear them playing and crying on the room next door). Jackson laughs – he has big plans for his businesses, so there is no time for a family. The children we hear are his older brother’s. Jackson tell us that over the coming years he would like to expand his existing businesses and acquire more land to grow more and different crops. Then, under his personal “Vision 2020” he says, he would be ready to have a family.

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Schadrack Habumuremyi

We hear a similar story at our next stop where we visit Schadrack Habumuremyi, 25 years old, who upon completion of the STRYDE training, secured a US$1147 loan to start his tree tomato business. His family already owned 1 hectare of land, but the loan allowed him to rent another ½ hectare and to invest in seeds and pesticides. Schadrack sells his tree tomatoes for US$1 per kilogram, and tells us that he sells about 100kg every 2 weeks to buyers in Kigali through local brokers. As we walk through his field he points to the back where he is currently doing a trial of growing pumpkins. He would like to grow his business and acquire more land to either grow garlic and – if proven successful and popular – pumpkin. We ask Schadrack if and how his business and the additional income have impacted his life. He says that since 2014, when he completed the initial STRYDE training, he has been able to buy a new phone, invest in new clothes and get medical insurance. He says he has become more market and goal oriented and that his business has given him the confidence to pursue his goals.

Stronger as a cooperative 

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Members of the AVEN cooperative

Our final stop takes us to Kinigi where we are due to meet the members of a cooperative, the Association pour la vision des Eleves de Nyonirima (AVEN), a very lively group of twelve young people who decided to form a cooperative following their STRYDE training. AVEN now produces improved seeds for potatoes. The cooperative works in partnership with Musanze Catholic University, which provides them with quality seeds and grants access to their greenhouses. AVEN received an initial loan of US$2000 to start their business and the cooperative hopes to be able to acquire more land, to increase their harvest to up 50 tons per season. They also hope to acquire a warehouse to store their crops before selling them at the local markets or to Kigali. Interestingly, all twelve of them also run their own small businesses on the side, ranging from growing garlic, running a bar, providing mobile banking services to owning a bull.

As we do a “tour-de-table” to find out about their individual businesses, one of the girls, Angelique, who sells rabbits as her own business, tells us that before she participated in STRYDE and became part of the cooperative, she was shy and afraid to speak in public. She says she has since gained confidence in her abilities and skills and that she now believes that she has a bright future ahead of her.

And it is precisely this spirit and energy that still strikes me now, almost two weeks after meeting all these young Rwandans. There is an incredible energy and drive dormant within the young people in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa that needs to be unlocked to improve livelihoods and economic growth. As we were able to see, this can be – at least partially – achieved through training and access to start-up capital. Once unlocked, there seem to be no limits to young people’s dreams and visions. Africa, as the youngest continent in the world, needs to capitalise on this talent and energy to achieve sustainable economic growth.

 

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