From Where I stand: “I used to think saving was for rich people”


Grace Umugaba
Grace Umugaba poses at home in Muhanga district in the southern province of Rwanda. Grace is a beneficiary of the UN Women's Turashoboye project that empowers teen mothers supported by the Government of Switzerland. Photo: Courtesy of YWCA.

Grace Umugaba is a 27-year-old mother of two who lives in the southern province of Rwanda in Muhanga district. At barely 15 years old, Grace became pregnant. Forced to abandon school, while she was a child, Grace had to look after her newborn. Financially things were hard for Grace’s family. She lived with her mother who did not have the means to provide for her siblings and Grace’s child. Grace had to look for a job to be able to care for her child.

Grace’s story is a story of many young girls in Rwanda, teenage pregnancy is a major health concern because of its association with higher morbidity and mortality for both the mother and the child. In Rwanda, teenage pregnancy stands at 5% for women between 15-19 years.

By luck, Grace found Turashoboye (“We're able” from Kinyarwanda) initiative that is being implemented by Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) in Kicukiro and Muhanga districts in Rwanda under UN Women’s   Enhancing Livelihood for Vulnerable Young Women project. The project supports teenage mothers among other vulnerable groups of women through hands-on skills, financial literacy, and inclusion, saving and borrowing, income generating activities as well as awareness raising on sexual reproductive health and rights.

“I used to think that saving is for rich people,” says Grace. Before joining a savings group, she thought only rich people save but to her surprise, she learned that she could start with only two hundred Rwandan francs.

Everything changed with the arrival of the savings group for me. I saved more money now," adds Grace.

Grace is one of 512 beneficiaries made of female sex workers, teen mothers, and vulnerable women who are in 20 saving groups that are being supported by the Turashoboye project with support from UN Women. It brings women together in a savings group, to save and provide small loans for the development of livelihoods in their community and the results couldn’t be better for its 30 members of the savings group. In a couple of months, not only did the group autonomously manage and run all its meetings, but it also managed to save RWF 900,000 (900USD) in one and a half years of implementation.

Grace said that saving allowed her to take a loan of 30,000 RWF at first in the group and started a small business selling rim papers and envelopes as she lives near a university that has a high demand for those products. Grace said that her dream is to have her stationery store.

The savings group is much more than just an economic enterprise for its members, however.

"As a member of this group, I have learned to live together in peace and to support one another. The group has reinforced social cohesion among us women; we talk about things like SRHR, and issues concerning our families and exchange ideas to develop our community. This would not have been possible if we women did not connect," says Grace adding that "The Turashoboye opened my eyes and showed me that I am able. I now know where I want to be in the next five years and being with others brought back the hope of tomorrow."