“When I returned from Tanzania as a refugee in 1996, just past the border we were greeted by WFP staff”, remembers Beatha Muicanziga, standing outside the offices of her cooperative COACMU in Kirehe District, Eastern Rwanda. The border is less than 10 km away from where she is sitting, but in her mind it is even closer. “They were giving out bags of maize, beans and oil to all returnees. I thought that was amazing. They were giving me food although I didn’t have even 5 Francs in my pocket”.
Now, fifteen years later, Mrs. Muicanziga is delighted to deal with WFP again, in a new way: “When I saw the white jeep with the big WFP sign coming to our village a year ago, the moment I came back over the border flashed before my eyes, and I came out to see why they were here. When I was told WFP was coming to buy food, I was delighted, as I knew many of the local farmers could not find a good market for their product”.
Often ill, Beatha has for years been unable to cultivate her garden, renting it out to her neighbours. But the proceeds of her 0.2 hectares are not enough to live on. Classified as one of the most vulnerable, she received government support for the last ten years - RWF 60,000 (US$100) a year, barely covering her basic needs.
She says her situation is very common among women her age, whose husbands were murdered during the Genocide of 1994, and whose children left home to find employment elsewhere.
Yet when the first bags for the WFP contract, bought through the Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative, appeared at the collection point, the cooperative’s president approached her and offered her a job, cleaning and sorting the bags. At a rate of 200 RWF per bag, she was able to earn 45,000 RWF ($75) in the first month.
Not only does she think this is a fair wage, but she has used this money to become a member of the cooperative. Already she can see the benefits, as through her vigorous work, she was recently promoted to supervise the other women cleaning and sorting the bags.
“It is incredible. Because WFP buys from us and also brings in other buyers, the cooperative can already employ 30 women like me, and 8 young men. The wage we get is fair, and payment always comes without delay. This is the only regular wage employment in this area. And, as our cooperative is now building a community warehouse, I would like to receive some formal training on warehouse management, which will allow me to take over more responsibilities and get an even better salary once it is complete”.
When asked about how she ensures that the maize reaches WFP quality standards, Beatha smiles: “We had people come from WFP and teach us about quality. But to be honest, their demands do not go far enough for me. I tell the women that they should clean the maize and beans like they clean it at home for their own children. I was once a person who received this food, and I understand better than anyone that these are people in need. I know refugees are still returning from Tanzania - they arrive where I once arrived, just over those hills there. It is now my job to ensure that they get the best quality possible. This makes me very proud!”