“I was poor indeed! If you look at me however, you can now see that VUP is blameless; we learnt to be self reliant here and are no longer amongst the needy people,” said Rusanganwa.
He is one of the VUP beneficiaries in Gikomero sector, Gasabo district, where the programme was introduced last year.
VUP was set up six years ago to help reduce poverty levels in Rwanda.
The beneficiaries include the elderly, those living with disabilities, children, female headed households, Genocide survivors, and the historically marginalised.
The most vulnerable who don’t qualify for small business loans are given a monthly stipend of between Rwf7,500 and Rwf21,000 depending on the size of their households.
One hundred and eighty members fall under this category of direct support in Gikomero sector.
Other members who benefit from a loan scheme are encouraged to work in groups of between 10 and 12 households to qualify for about Rwf5m and Rwf7m credit payable in two years.
A household can get at least Rwf80,000 worth of credit.
Since January this year, over Rwf1b was given out in loans countrywide.
In the third component, the poor energetic residents are employed in public works such as road maintenance, agriculture, construction, etc. where they get daily wages of between Rwf1,500 to Rwf2,000 to support their households.
At least 180 beneficiaries in Gikomero sector are saving 40 per cent of their monthly stipend.
Rusanganwa said at the beginning, they used the money to buy basic needs. But now they can save some money from their living allowance.
“I no longer mind about food; with this grant, I hire a casual worker for my farm. My production of Irish potatoes has more than trebled in the last three years. Since this project is bearing fruits, direct aid is something we won’t be eligible for in the near future,” he said, adding that he is now able to pay Rwf50,000 in schools fees for his two grandchildren.
With a gross sum of Rwf2m they were paid every month last year, Rusanganwa’s group saved more than Rwf800,000 per month.
In August, VUP managers designed a project of green house for the group.
Up to Rwf6.5m from their savings helped them fund a green house project for tomatoes growing. They are now harvesting and have recovered Rwf 4m. More than Rwf9m is expected at the end of the season. A greenhouse serves for six years.
Last year, Rusanganwa’s 34 village mates acquired a loan of Rwf1.5m to also start their green house project.
“Our field teams are doing a great job by helping beneficiaries to understand that their allowances afford more than foodstuff,” said Enatha Mukayizera, the in charge of VUP in Gasabo district, adding that cultivating a savings culture among the people was initially a challenge.
Justin Gatsinzi, the deputy director-general of social protection in Rwanda Local Development Support Fund (RLDSF), said they are yet to register the number of graduates from one category to another nationwide, but reports from 180 sectors covered by VUP indicated great progress.
According to statistics from Gatsinzi’s office, VUP direct support increased to more than Rwf1 billion in March from Rwf400m in early 2009. It started in 30 sectors across the country, supporting around 6,000 households.
The coverage was increased to 180 sectors with more than 40,000 households benefiting by March.
Pig project to finance a vehicle
In the loan scheme category, 90 women working in five groups from Gikomero sector applied for a loan of Rwf7m last year. They bought five pigs, which, in seven months have multiplied to 38.
Veterinary officials say one pig can deliver up to three times a year, producing up to 10 piglets at a time.
“We have a ready market where we shall be selling at the end of the year. A 150-kilogramme pig cost about Rwf200,000 and we are sure we will buy a vehicle worth Rwf8m for our business next year,” said Alphonsine Mukakinani, 40, who joined VUP in 2011.
Prof. Herman Musahara, an expert in development studies at the National University of Rwanda, said social protection is an important asset in addressing community disparity.
“If there were no programmes like VUP, some people would not enjoy the dividends of the country’s rapid growth,” Prof. Musahara said. “Cash transfer to the very poor is well spent when it is linked to a specific programme like health, education and the VUP programme.”
Referring to success stories in social protection strategies Southern African countries, Musahara says success lies in thinking beyond a direct support to sustainable way out of poverty.
Emerging from poverty to self-reliance in Rwanda is included in government’s 10-year social protection programme that was unveiled in 2011.
But the Director-General of Community Development and Social Welfare in the Ministry of Local Government, Francine Tumushime, admits there are challenges like delays in cash transfer, small coverage due to insufficient funds and duplication of services at some point.
Tumushime said the challenges are handled in joint sector review and the sector working group meetings.