Julienne say that being in her self-help group has "made me light hearted". She explains further, “when I have problems, I get over them and move on because I am together with other people.” Julienne can confide in her self-help group and share her problems, and also realise that others are facing the same problems. A problem shared makes for a lighter heart.
When I first met Julienne in 2016, she was heavily pregnant. She had three other children, but only her youngest daughter Annuonita, 9, still lived with her. Julienne remembers her own childhood fondly as a good life and also her marriage, but nine years ago her husband died from an illness leaving her to provide for her family alone. She was eight months pregnant when we first met and was too weak to work much – digging fields for others – but without work could not feed herself and her daughter. Any medical problems were compounded too – see the story below.
She knew friends who had joined self-help groups and had seen that their lives improved, so she was happy when her chance came to join a group. Her biggest hope at that time was that she could buy an animal for the manure and, as she explained later, “your animal can support you during hard times.” Julienne was in hard times then, but did not have an animal, and barely any other support.
With Eric (10 months)
Returning home with Annuonita
Fetching water at eight months pregnant
Resting from fetching water at eight months pregnant
Bedroom for Julienne and Annuonita
A visit to the clinic with Annuonita (malaria).
Dreams: owning a house
A new baby...
Eric was born shortly after that 2016 visit, and when I returned in 2017 he was a strapping ten-month old baby boy. Eric’s good health and curiosity alone showed that Julienne was doing better now. Although Julienne was even less able to find work after Eric’s birth, her new group helped to find jobs she could do so she had money for food and for group savings.
Julienne took a loan from the group to buy a rabbit; however, rabbits appear to be fragile investments, despite their reputation for multiplication, and it died shortly afterwards. She was nonetheless becoming strong enough to work more and bought herself a pig from a month’s labouring. The pig is doing well, and Julienne plans to keep it in case hard times return. She does hope for piglets, and for more livestock. As she says, “if I have a pig today, I need a goat tomorrow.” The more manure, the better: she can sell it or use it herself to grow food.
The self-help groups have given Julienne a dependable community. Asked how she felt about her group, she replied “I feel happy about them because when we are together, we share ideas […] I can make something out of being with others […] Life has got better.”
Julienne of Gakomeye
A sick daughter
I was supposed to photograph Julienne going to the clinic for a pregnancy checkup, but her daughter Annuonita had a fever and needed medical attention. This dramatically changed Julienne's day.
With nobody else to help, Julienne has to make the trip down into the valley for water. After that her plan is to find some casual work to earn the money she would need to take her daughter to the clinic.
Julienne has no health insurance, so has to take her daughter to the community health nurse, about a 45 minute walk, to get a referral to the clinic. She would then have to walk to the clinic with her feverish daughter. Although in the midst of a village, Julienne had no one else to help her.
At this point we intervened. The local NGO workers with me helped Julienne carry her water out of the valley and we then took her to the clinic in our vehicle.
On this day, Julienne has only been in her self help group for three days. Once the group is settled and working together, Julienne will have health insurance, a priority for all groups, but most importantly she will have a group of women around her to help her when these situations arise.
Julienne washes herself and cleans her shoes before a trip to the clinic for her daughter Annuoinita, 9. Annuoinita is suffering from fever.
Annuoinita waits outside the doctors office. A test reveals that she has malaria.
Julienne buys malaria medication at the clinic.
Julienne and Annuoinita leave the clinic. Annuoinita was diagnosed with malaria. The treatment is a three day course of tablets.
Julienne and Annuoinita arrive back home after a trip to the clinic. Annuoinita has malaria, and must take a three-day course of tablets.
Two of the AEE Rwanda workers help Julienne carry her water.