Designing the Life You Want

Labour market insertion
We meet 26-year-old Evodie Mukandayisenga and 27-year-old Epimaque Gashirande, two leatherworkers who operate from an agakiriro in the Western Province of Rwanda. The term agakiriro is derived from a Kinyarwanda word gukira which means ‘getting rich’. Agakiriro can thus be literary translated as a place where one can get rich. It is a government-supported initiative that provides a safe space for youth to earn a living. As they sit in their workshop, they tell us their story of how the project Promoting Market-Oriented Skills Training (PROMOST) in the Great Lakes Region changed their lives for the better.
Evodie Mukandayisenga and Epimaque Gashirande 

Evodie: I heard about the training from the local authorities in 2016. They were looking for youth like me who were eager to change their future by learning a new skill. When I visited the office, I noticed three trades were available for selection. These were welding, construction and leatherworks. I selected the training in leatherworks as I felt it would be more profitable since there was an ongoing government initiative promoting products Made in Rwanda.

Epimaque: I heard about it around the same time as Evodie. I was fortunate enough to complete high school and had already enrolled for the mandatory government citizenship training, which lasted two weeks. As I was interested in gaining my independence fast and did not like the idea of the nine-month wait before joining university, I decided to seize the opportunity and selected leatherwork as my trade of choice.

Epimaque: The training took three months and was held in group sessions. At first, I was not fully committed to learning and would attend the sessions just to past time. I didn’t want to be idle at home. As time went by, I realised the sessions were very interactive, practical and enjoyable. Our trainer was a credible craftsman who inspired us. It was interesting learning how to work with pure plain leather and how to transform it into different functional products like shoes. Once we learnt the basics, we began earning money as we would get orders from the neighbouring community. This was the right motivation. I don’t regret going into leatherwork because it requires creativity more than physical skills which I thrive on. The certificate we received after the training is supported by the Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA), and it makes us credible when we approach financial institutions for support. This works out for me because my chances of accessing finance have been increased.

Evodie: I don’t regret picking this trade. I’ve learnt a lot along the way. I was first inspired by a lady I had seen making quality shoes. She was confident in her skin, and her shoes were of good quality. It is then that I discovered that despite it being a male-dominated trade, women could also have a piece of the pie and earn a decent living from it. Some of my friends laugh at me because it’s a dirty job, but that doesn’t bother me. The training was an opportunity, and I was committed to it from the start. One of my family members tried to discourage me from training in leatherwork and even offered to pay for me a tailoring course. But this makes more money. There are many tailors around, but very few people know how to work with leather.

Evodie: Initially, we were 20 youth enrolled in the training. After completion, we formed a cooperative which is a government prerequisite for working in the agakiriro. It was just a matter of time before priorities changed, and the cooperative started splitting up. Some members went to work elsewhere, others had to attend to family duties while others just thought the job was taxing and did not want to be involved anymore. Now there are only five of us left; three ladies and two gentlemen. We have formed a good working relationship and often collaborate and work on big orders together. When one person is designing and drawing, another is cutting, another stretching the leather, and another is shaping the shoe. We have managed to put together a design book that showcases the diverse offerings we can execute. Still, we are also open to making customised designs as per our clients’ requests.

Epimaque: When we started, we were having trouble registering our cooperative. But when we finally got the required documents, the group split. This was very disheartening as we all had big dreams of how we would use our newly acquired skills to generate income and improve our lives. We began receiving large orders from different clients but couldn’t deliver because of our low membership. We strategized as a group and decided to hire other people to fully take advantage of our opportunities. With the big orders, we share the payment equally, and we don’t stop any member from taking small orders and working on them individually. To ensure the growth of the cooperative, each member is required to contribute CHF 2 into our savings account monthly. This goes to address certain expenses like cleaning the workshop, paying electricity and employees and will also go into rent in the coming months. In my capacity as the President of the cooperative, it is my duty to collect the money made from the large orders and share it equally amongst ourselves.

Enjoying making shoes

Evodie: I love making both male and female sandals as they are easy and do not take a lot of my time. It is also possible to apply my creativity in the designs, which gives my clients a variety to choose from. A pair is about CHF 5, and I can make about five pairs in a day. I’m also capable of making other designs like high heels, closed shoes and boots.

Epimaque: I enjoy making closed shoes because I earn more money from them. A pair goes for approximately CHF 20 depending on the details applied. They generally take longer to make, but that doesn’t bother me.

Learning this skill affected our lives and goals for the future

Evodie: I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I had not taken up the opportunity of learning leatherwork. It has changed my life in ways I only dreamt of before. Now I’m able to help my family with their farming activities and have bought livestock which generate additional income on the side. I have opened a personal account where I save and have joined three mavuno saving groups where I cumulatively save CHF 4 a month. I’m saving towards opening my workshop and plan to start buying the tools I will need.

Epimaque: Nobody buys shoes anymore in my family. I make for them. Sometimes I go home, surprise my family with meat. It’s rare that people eat meat in our village. I save in the bank and I am also part of two mavunos where I contribute CHF 2 weekly to each group. Recently I won a competition which I joined individually as our cooperative lacked all the documents at registration. My design got me awarded CHF 505, which I am planning to invest wisely. I still plan on going back to university, and now I can afford to pay for it. Before I started leatherwork, I was interested in doing civil engineering. The two trades require a similar skillset: drawing and design which I thoroughly enjoy. I plan to go back and focus on this.

Promoting Market-Oriented Skills Training in the Great Lakes Region

PROMOST (Promoting Market-Oriented Skills Training) in the Great Lakes Region is currently in its eighth year of operations. It is about to round up the third phase of the 12-year SDC programme that aims to support the Government of Rwanda’s efforts to improve access to, as well as the quality and relevance of, its TVET system. The project has a regional dimension and has extended its activities to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. PROMOST is financed by SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) and implemented by Swisscontact.