A thin thread of hope
Ishimwe, a refugee from Burundi, arrived in Dzaleka Camp in 2007 after being transferred from Luwani Refugee Camp following its closure. Unlike most refugees in Dzaleka, Ishimwe was self-sufficient and never experienced any financial hurdles. She ran a grocery shop in the Camp, which made her enough income to support her family. Ishimwe has a big family of 11 children but she was able to feed them from the money she realized from the shop. Besides that, she complemented the business by plaiting woollen hats, table mats and cushions which she sold at the local market to make a side income.
Just like in any other refugee camp across the world, refugees in Dzaleka heavily rely on food aid but Ishimwe never really depended on that. She never saw the need since she had everything she needed to survive without waiting for monthly food rations. Life for her was smooth and comfy and she could have not asked for more.
The smooth comfy life was not to last.
Mishap comes in different shapes and forms and for Ishimwe it sneaked up on her as an incident involving her first-born daughter. It all started when an unfortunate incident at school left Ishimwe’s daughter with a severely perforated eardrum which affected most of her normal physical abilities. This was the beginning of Ishimwe’s financial dilemma.
“My daughter was born with no physical disability but the accident essentially left her physically disabled,” Ishimwe explained painfully “Doctors could not explain what had happened. I began seeking medical help and that saw me moving from hospital to hospital in desperate need of assistance.” Gradually, the medical bills she encountered became expensive and Ishimwe could not cope up but she had no choice.
She needed her daughter cured.
Ishimwe’s shop, her main means of income, was hugely affected since she used most of the income she earned there to pay for the medical bills. Ishimwe was forced to close the shop because she had no money to re-stock her supplies. The medical bills drained her accounts and bankrupted her. Then poverty hit her hard.
It was a shocking experience for someone who once had everything she needed. Her financial status deteriorated and for the first time, Ishimwe’s 11 kids could eat just once a day and sometimes sleep without food.
“I could see us [my family] slipping into deep poverty. It frustrated me because I was never used to it. I felt like I was no longer in control of my life.” Ishimwe recalled sadly. She knew it was time to start looking for new alternative sources of earning money to jump free from the financial predicament. A group of friends who sympathized with her status quo informed her of our vocational training programme and the various opportunities for skills that existed in the programme.
Ishimwe was curious to know more so when we advertised for places for the first intake of 2018, she was among the 18 students we selected for our Tailoring course.
When she graduated from the course six months later, Ishimwe set up a tailoring shop within the compound of her home and immediately went to work. Before long, she had a loyal customer base and numerous people flocked to hire her tailoring services. Institutions in the Camp also hired Ishimwe to make school uniforms, wedding attires, suits for kids and other big orders. Suddenly, money started flowing in and her financial status recovered. The challenges she had faced disappeared and her life returned to normal. Ishimwe could now afford to buy luxurious goods and manage to feed her family once more.
“My life has completely changed and my children can attest to that. I recently bought a television set and a decoder to watch paid TV services. Yes, I can even subscribe to paid TV.” Ishimwe chuckled.
That is not all, Ishimwe believes in helping others in distress so she uses some of the money she earns to assist fellow refugees in need. She explained that it is part of her initiative to provide comfort to those who are facing a similar tough situation she passed through. It is also Ishimwe’s social responsibility to her refugee community.
Today, Ishimwe’s sadness has been transformed to joy because of the tailoring course she did through our vocational training programme. From her small tailoring shop, she can put food on the table, put her kids through school, buy essentials for her home and still remain with additional money to save for a rainy day.