Village Savings and Loans Associations: an approach that is transforming lives

UNICEF along with WFP and FAO are working together to help reduce poverty and strengthen economic resilience amongst the most vulnerable communities in Rwanda

By Pamela Mudakikwa
Nemeyimana checks on his rabbits
29 March 2022

The first thing 29-year-old Jean Damascene Nemeyimana does every morning is feeding his rabbits at his home in Nyamagabe, a district in the south of Rwanda. The bright morning sun does not dampen his spirit as he works tirelessly. His chest swells with pride as he looks at the dwelling he has built for his rabbits. It looks good and the number of rabbits is multiplying at a good rate.

“I started rabbit farming with just a handful of them. Today, I have more than 46 rabbits, each with its own modern cage. I have also built another home for rabbits that are ready to give birth,” he says.

Nemeyimana explains that rabbit farming has changed his life and improved his family’s income. Only a couple of years ago, he considered himself a poor man, who could barely afford to provide food for his small family. He used to work in other people’s fields and earn a daily wage which barely saw the family through the day.

His life took a turn for the better when a proximity advisor (a community-based volunteer trained to link citizens to socio-economic services and opportunities, and monitors progress through home visits and counseling) informed him about a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) that could help him start a small enterprise and earn money. 

He was interested and joined the group without hesitation. This was the beginning of Nemeyimana’s journey to success. He continued to work for others but unlike before, thanks to the VSLA, he began saving his hard-earned income. Over time, his savings multiplied and Nemeyimana became eligible to apply for a small loan, which he did.

“Becoming a farmer has always been my dream and the VSLA was an opportunity for me to make it come true."

Jean Damascene Nemeyimana

"First, I requested a small loan of Rwf 40.000 (approx. $40) and bought two piglets. Later I sold them, paid off my loan and requested another loan. This time I built twenty-one cages and bought rabbits as I realised that it is a very profitable project that I should invest in. That was my entry point, and I am happy with the progress I am making.” Nemeyimana says confidently.

VSLAs are being rolled out as part of a UN Joint Programme on Social Protection supported by UNICEF, WFP and FAO with financing from the Joint SDG Fund. The objective of this Joint Programme is to support and accelerate the Government of Rwanda’s efforts for integrated social protection to end poverty in all its forms while ensuring that no one is left behind. Under the Joint Programme umbrella, the three UN agencies came together and designed a community-level intervention under the project name ‘Acceleration of Integrated Social Protection Interventions in Rwanda (AISPR)’ which is implemented by World Relief Rwanda in close collaboration with the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC).

Francine Murekatete, a Social Protection Officer in Kitabi Sector of Nyamagabe District confirms that the AISPR project, locally dubbed “Baho Neza” (literary meaning “Live Well”) has borne fruit including reducing the rate of malnutrition among children and improving the livelihoods of vulnerable populations.

Francine Murekatete, a Social Protection Officer in Kitabi Sector of Nyamagabe District
Murekatete Francine, Social Protection Officer, Kitabi Sector, Nyamagabe District

“We had eighteen malnourished children in our sector. Thanks to the Baho Neza project, only two children are still under treatment, while others have recovered fully.”

Francine Murekatete

“We had eighteen malnourished children in our sector. Thanks to the Baho Neza project, villagers were trained on how to establish kitchen gardens and prepare nutritious food at their homes. As of now, only two children are still under treatment, while others have recovered fully.” Murekatete says.

The AISPR project operates in five Districts namely Kirehe, Karongi, Burera, Nyamagabe, and Rutsiro. It aims at helping citizens like Nemeyimana who are among the most vulnerable in their community, to graduate from extreme poverty through savings and loans associations and other interventions such as community sensitization and integrated case management and referral. The VSLA and associated interventions such as community sensitization help beneficiaries learn other life-changing skills including healthy nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation, modern farming among others.

A proud father of two, Nemeyimana, provides for his family and ensures that his children eat healthy food every day. He has gained this knowledge thanks to the training he receives through his VSLA. He also pays the school feeding fees for his children and can cover other family expenses easily thanks to the revenues from his rabbit farming project.

The most recent icing on the cake is a Rwf 400.000 grant (approx. $400) he won from the AISPR project competition for small projects, in which his rabbit project emerged first. The grant is aptly titled ‘seed funding’ as it aims to support the early stages of small income-generating projects.

Nemeyimana sharing his success story with his fellow VSLA members
Nemeyimana sharing his success story with his fellow VSLA members

This grant has boosted his morale and he is now more ambitious than ever before; “My project will definitely grow bigger; the money will help me build more cages and buy more rabbits. I have already started selling young ones and the market is promising. My wife and I are planning to go back to school, we had dropped out before we completed high school due to the lack of means but we understand the importance of investing in education, for both ourselves as well as our children, for a better future.” Nemeyimana concludes on a high note.