By Pontian Kabeera
When Ishimwe Yvette’s family relocated from Kigali to Kayonza District, the experience was overwhelming, making it hard for them to settle in, particularly because the place was dry and had no access to clean water for home use. The challenge was, however, seen by Ishimwe as an opportunity to serve her community and also make some money in the process.
The Eastern Province is one of the driest places in Rwanda, experiencing long droughts and acute water shortages. Though the water utility has tried to provide clean water to residents, the situation is quite challenging as the long spells of the dry season affect farming and other activities.
Amidst these challenges there is a young and enterprising woman who has become the vanguard of the community, ensuring that her community gets access to clean water at an affordable fee.
Yvette Ishimwe, the proprietor of Iriba Clean Water Delivery, a water distribution business in Kayonza District, says her business was born out of need to supply her community with safe drinking water, especially during the long dry spells.
A humble beginning
The 19-year-old was born in Gikondo, a Kigali suburb. However, she lost her father when she was just one year old, leaving the responsibility of raising her and her sister to the mum.
Ishimwe says: “My mother did whatever she could to raise and educate us, and generally take good care of us.” Though life was not easy for the family, Ishimwe says her mother was very instrumental in ensuring that they get an education irrespective of the situation.
Water business born
When the going gets tough, only the tough get going, says an adage by Robert Schuler. This adage could have been crafted for people like Ishimwe who has surmounted huge challenges of her humble background and environment, and turned them into opportunities. Ishimwe says when the family relocated to Kayonza District in 2014, where her mother had bought a piece land, life changed, thanks partly to the long dry spells that are characteristic of area.
Clean water was hard to come by, with a 20-litre jerrycan going for Rwf200-Rwf300 each. The situation made the Kepler University bachelor’s of business and communication student think and research on how best she could get clean water for the family and the entire village at a fair cost. She thought of starting a water purification and supply enterprise in the village.
Ishimwe says her business idea was to be fully crystallised when her mother bought a water tank to harvest rain water for home use. “This helped me concretise my idea, visualising the solution water challenge in the village,” she says.
Kayonza is one the most water-stressed areas in Rwanda, which experience severe dry spells.
Ishimwe says she conducted some research that revealed that most residents were using dirty water from the neighbouring swamps, which she says endangered their lives.
She says after analysing the situation, she experiment a water treatment system – the ultraviolet water purifier – using the family water tank. After I was satisfied with the results, I started supplying clean water to over 20 families in the neighbourhood during the pilot phase of the innovation, she says.
“I used the feedback to improve all aspects of the business, and also continued expanding the water distribution to cover more people in our village,” Ishimwe says.
She notes that she started with one 20,000-litre water tank, but was forced to buy another one with the capacity to hold 10,000 litres to meet demand for safe water in the area. Within few months, the demand had reached 120,000 litres and Ishimwe decided to buy a third water tank of 35,000 litres.
She says she fetches the water from Lake Muhazi and ferries it using hired bicycles to ensure that water is always available for all her clients.
How the water is purified
They put chlorine in the water storage tank to get rid of all the harmful bacteria. The water is then pumped through the ultraviolet purification system that produces ultra violet rays, which act as water purifiers. After this, the water is ready for home use by consumers. The water purifier cost her Rwf400,000 from her personal savings (Rwf150,000), while her mother topped up the balance of Rwf250,000, Ishimwe says.
Marketing and distribution
What drives is her not money, but rather to help people in her area access clean water for home use. “That’s why I sell a 20-litre jerry can at Rwf60, and at Rwf100 for those who need the water to be delivered to their homes,” she says.
She says her clients are mainly from Munazi village and Kayonza town, where she has two water collection centres.
“Currently, I am distributing clean water to over 200 people a day, but there are other people who collect the water from the two centres themselves in Munazi and in Kayonza town,” she says.
She uses five workers to deliver the water on bicycles.
Ishimwe employs six youth who fetch and distribute the treated water to customers on bicycles. Two of these workers are employed on permanent basis, and each earns Rwf35,000 per month.
She says from her two water collection centers, she sells 10,000 litre’s of water every day and she makes Rwf30,000 per day, which averages Rwf900,000 per month.
Ishimwe is inspired by the woman who gave her life. “My mother is my strongest role model. She has worked hard to take care of us and give us an education, and taught values that will help in life,” she said. She says people need to understand their purpose in life to achieve what their heart cherishes. “Most of the people fail not because they are meant to, but they fail to understand their purpose in life. This is a recipe for failure,” she notes.
Ishimwe says the business is growing at a slow pace because of financial challenges she faces. She says she hires cars to pump water from Lake Muhazi, which is very expensive.
“Also, the maintenance of water collection centres is costly, but I always try to think positively, ensure proper monitoring of the project to give residents safe water.
Ishimwe says the government should review taxation policy and give young entrepreneurs and start-ups tax holidays and other incentives until when their business stabilise.
Ishimwe’s dream is to open up more water kiosks in other parts of the Eastern Province.
“I want to expand the service to other water-stressed areas, like Bugesera District,” she says. Ishimwe says after her bachelor’s degree, she hopes to enroll for business management master’s degree. Ishimwe says she will open another water collection centre to expand her market.
What they say
Antione Uwizeye, a resident of Munazi village, says this project has helped address the challenge of water shortage the area faces.
“We can now even build houses using water from Iriba Water Collection Centre since it is affordable,” says Uwizeye.
She adds that besides water for construction, Iriba serves clean water for home use.
This article was originally published by the NewTimes in August 2016.
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