From cast-off to president

Toon Vrelust (Broederlijk Delen) & Nathalie Rucquoy (ADA)
17 November 2017
It takes a great deal of self-confidence to escape from poverty. This is clear in the story about Jeanne (Ruanda): once an outcast, now the president of the women's committee in her village.
Jeanne Rwanda

Life was hell

‘For years, I was afraid and resentful. I lived in total isolation. I was always in a bad mood. I didn't talk to people. I was disgusted by everything and everybody.

It all began when I became pregnant at the age of seventeen while still living at home. I was a disgrace to my family. My parents were ashamed of me. My brothers, sisters and the neighbours all despised me and my little boy. I felt like a criminal.

I moved in with Vincent, the father of my child. This did not please my mother-in-law as I was a rejected woman. She had something to say about everything I did. In short, she terrorised me. I argued constantly with Vincent. He was aggressive and took his anger out on me. I fled to my mother in desperation. But I was never welcome for long.

We lived in awful poverty. We had no land. I was sometimes able to find a day's work during the harvest, but this was unusual. We were starving. If we were lucky we ate just one meal a day. We had no money for clothes. Vincent would sometimes go and steal something, but he was caught and sent to jail. Life was hell. I was completely desperate.


The local NGO known as APROMUJAP helped me out of my isolation

Things changed when two women from APROJUMAP came looking for me. They had heard about my situation. I did not trust them at first. Why did they want to help me? What did they want from me?

They told me about a group of single women in a similar situation to me. A group that listened to each other, supported each other and worked together. A group where you could follow training and get a little credit. It changed my life.

The first training I followed was about our right to a dignified life. Despite being very poor we still have the same rights as anyone else. However, we also learned that things would not just be passed to us on a plate. We needed to roll up our sleeves and make an effort. And that we could do more than we believed was possible. This helped my self-confidence to grow.

We meet every week to do some solidarity work. For example, we help a member with home repairs. Or we dig a drainage channel. I also participate in the group's monthly meetings.

It has helped me out of my isolation.



Despite being very poor we still have the same rights as anyone else on a dignified life. However, we also learned that things would not just be passed to us on a plate.

I began feeling happy again

Everyone talked about their problems. I became aware of the fact that I was really not the only one to have them. We helped each other look for solutions. I gradually realised I was more sociable than I thought. I could sometimes contribute, they understood me, we could have a laugh together. I felt happy again.

Thanks to the support of APROJUMAP our women's group has been able to drain a muddy area and turn it into fields. It was tough work, but also a unique opportunity for a better life. Each woman now has a field in which to plant maize, sweet potatoes and cabbages. I am now able to provide sufficient food for my family and even have some left to sell.

I have also been given training in retail and basic accounts. The first micro-credit of 25,000 Rwandan francs (€25.80) allowed me to buy a pot in which to brew beer made from sorgo. As well as beer I also sell charcoal, avocados and cooked maize. I was soon able to repay my debt. With a second, larger loan I was able to buy a calf and two piglets. I am now in the process of fattening them up.

The women ended up electing me as president of our women's committee. That makes me so proud. Most of all I am really grateful for the opportunities I have been given.’




Year after year, the local organisation APROJUMAP (Association pour la promotion des jumelages et de l’amitié entre les peoples/ The Association for the Promotion of Twinning and Friendship between People) provides training and support to hundreds of people like Jeanne. The organisation aims to give the world's poorest people their dignity back. That is the starting point. After all, only those who have their dignity can build up a resistance. What is so special about this approach is that help comes from the poor people themselves. They understand each other, comfort each other and inspire each other by working together one day a week. This method is not expensive at all. However, some money is required to pay the people giving the training. This money cannot be raised by poor people in one of Africa's poorest countries. APROJUMAP is supported in its work by the Belgian organisations Broederlijk Delen, ADA and Entraide & Fraternité, including funding from the Belgian government.

Agriculture Women Rwanda
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