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Shoemakers Collective


The members of this collective met while attending the same health center, where they would collect their HIV medications. At the time, they were struggling. Honorine, 42, explains that “we were living in hardship. We were very poor, some of us had side-effects from the medications because we didn’t have enough to eat.” Those with children often couldn’t pay school fees so their children dropped out of school. When Ubaka Ejo OVC came to their area, the project organized savings groups for the parents, helped get their children back into school, and contributed to their school fees. With their most immediate problems taken care of, Honorine says that “as parents we thought: what can we do? As the OVC project had talked to our children, they talked to us as parents and supported us to start this business.”


The collective members had been working in traditional shoe-making techniques, but with an injection of capital they were able to buy equipment to make better quality shoes and rent a house where they could work together and produce more. With two years of COVID-19 lock-downs coinciding with their two years of working together, they have had to be innovative in their business. Most of their sales are from online advertising in WhatsApp groups, and they plan to extend that into an online shop and export to neighboring countries.


The pandemic also caused price increases in their raw materials, coinciding with the phase out of Ubaka Ejo in their area. Of course, they are apprehensive, keenly aware that they need to reduce materials costs to remain viable. Olivier, 26, explains that their leather comes from Uganda and Kenya, as there is no leather industry in Rwanda, “so we want to increase our sales, and then go to the [source] countries to buy the materials at a low price. Now, we use our time to get then money, then we will go.” They have a plan.



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