Access to Capital, Education and Time Changes Lives, Futures
Access changes lives, one person at a time. Read how three individuals overcame challenging circumstances, and how access is transforming their futures.
Didier Sagashya watched Rwanda crumble during the genocide. Today, after receiving a university education that was once impossibly out of reach, he’s helping to build his country’s future.
For me, the future of Rwanda depends on education. In order to increase our productivity, we must build technical capacity — which is why I’m studying for my master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. My two brothers are studying as well — one in Morocco, doing his first degree in computer science, and the other in Rwanda, studying electronics. Calling them is very expensive, but I do it often. I have to. We survived the genocide in 1994 with our father. My sister and my mother were killed.
We returned to school after the fighting stopped, but it was so hard to study. Some students dropped out, others were traumatized. It’s so difficult to explain the mood of that time. We had no vision for the development of Rwanda or any optimism for the future. Everyone was trying to survive. But many people were committed to work, even without a salary, just to make sure we could move on. Rebuilding the infrastructure damaged in the war was a big challenge. There were no technicians, and though people were using common sense, it was very difficult. It made us realize the importance of education to Rwanda’s future. So in 1999 I began to study at a new school, Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, for my undergraduate degree in civil engineering and environmental technology.
But then later, working first as a building inspector and then as the director of the Building Inspection Unit for the Kigali City Council, I saw that we didn’t have enough planners in Rwanda, not in the true sense. We would make subdivision plans, but with no provision for sewage, water or other utilities. When my boss, the mayor of Kigali, became the governor of the Eastern Province, I was appointed to join him there to become Director of Lands, Physical Planning, Housing and Infrastructure, in the capital district of Rwamagana. Working with a team of American planners, we began to develop a vision: for residential areas, new tourist areas, and for commercial development. For the first time, we had a futuristic view — 20, 40 and 50 years from now.
Rwanda needed planners — I realized — not only engineers. I applied for a scholarship this year and was selected to come to Edinburgh. This is my first time in Europe, or traveling any long distance like this, and I have been getting settled. After graduation, I’ll return to Rwanda and my job in the Eastern Province. There is no planning course at my undergraduate university there, and I have been thinking of ways to start one. Rwanda needs people to plan its future, and I want to participate. —as told to Andrew Blum
Usha Kumar’s day-to-day life in rural India was consumed by her family’s thirst. Once the flow of fresh water arrived in her village, she was given access to an even more precious thing: time.
I live in the village of Melanaduvalur in Tamil Nadu State, India. There are 147 households here. Before our village received water hookups I had to walk over one kilometer to a well for drinking water. Once I was there I would have to wait in line, because there was only one hand pump for the well. Sometimes there wasn’t enough water for the hand pump to work, and I would have to walk to an irrigation ditch and get my water there. It was very dirty, but it was all we had.
Then last year a group of us applied for a capital improvement grant through a local organization, Gramalaya [working with the American non-profit, WaterPartners International]. We received the loan, and they helped us put in a water connection. Now 135 households have toilets and 52 have water taps. We have both. I never dreamt that I would have either. I thought it would be far too expensive.
It’s meant big changes for my family and me. Now I’m able to spend more time with my husband, and I’m able to farm on the side with my extra time, which means more food and more money for my family. I even get along with my neighbors better. Before we used to fight over water, but now there’s much more harmony. —as told to Jeff Howe and translated by S. Damodaran
Maria Estela Gimenez Vazquez
Maria Estela Gimenez Vazquez escaped a sweatshop in Brazil to start her own business in her native Paraguay. Thanks to microcredit loans, she’s been able to expand her business and enter the growing middle class.
I run a small tailor and dressmaking shop from the front room of my house in the city of Villarrica in southern Paraguay. With the help of microcredit, I can balance my work and family life, and know my business is secure.
My life was not like that before. I was born in Villarrica into a very poor family. We lived on only a few thousand guaranies [less than U.S. $1] per day. But I really wanted to study, so I worked as a maid in rich people’s houses, and eventually I saved enough money to go to Brazil to study clothing manufacturing. But the working conditions there were horrible — I often worked 12-hour days in poorly lit shops. And I missed my family, so when I could, I returned to Villarrica and opened my own shop. I sometimes share the work with my cousin, who has six machines and two employees.
Things began to change two years ago, when we heard about the Cooperativa Multiactiva Karumbey Ltda, a local cooperative that offers small loans at reasonable interest rates. It was founded in 2002 by 238 people, who each put in 5,000 guaranies [then about $0.96].
Before that, the loan sharks were the only place to get small loans, because banks would not lend less than 1,000,000 guaranies [about $196]. I have now taken out four small loans, of 100,000 to 500,000 guaranies [around $19 to $98]. I use the money to fix machines when they break and to slowly expand the business. I don’t need more — in fact, a larger loan would be too difficult to pay back, and I have seen neighbors go bankrupt and lose their assets, like their animals or refrigerators, when they can’t meet the monthly payments. But I have no need to expand too much; I can’t export my clothes outside Paraguay because the infrastructure is poor, and I rarely even sell outside my neighborhood because it is difficult for a woman to travel alone.
More importantly, I don’t want to be rich — not if it means my life is only about work. I want balance. I want to be comfortable enough to spend time with family and friends, to volunteer with my husband at our church, and, we hope, to someday add on a guest room to our house, so we can accommodate the friends and family from the rural areas who want to visit us in the city. But business is steady, and growing. —as told to Andrew Blum, with additional reporting by Regina Jun