We visited some of the self-help groups organised by AEE Rwanda. This one, typical of the other 3,000 that AEE supports (and the other 6,000 that have graduated) consists of 20 people - all of them women. Today they meet on a grassy field outside the cell office.
It is both ironic and symptomatic that the women sit to discuss business while the men play soccer in the background. Many men are unemployed in Rwanda because jobs are difficult to find. The women, on the other hand, gather to teach each other how to tackle problems. They pool together what little savings they can make, sometimes 100-200 Rwandan francs a week per person. In a year, this group has managed to save 200,000 rwf. Members then take out loans from the pool when it is needed, e.g., to buy stocks for a small business, or to pay the school fees for a child.
AEE self-help groups focus on women for a variety of reasons. Part of which is that women are in the best position to take care of the children, a key objective of AEE. Many women had no means to making any income. They might wish to start a small business but did not know how. The self-help groups, supported by AEE, taught them how to do accounting, and to manage small businesses, such as buying beans produced by their neighbours and then selling the beans in bulk further on.
These women, armed with the means to make an income, gain tremendous confidence, respect and status in front of their husbands and among the community.