While visiting Gihaya Island, located in the Western Province of Rwanda, I participated in a canoeing expedition staged by members of a local cooperative known as Noza Ubukorikori.
All members of this cooperative are women. An encounter with women working hard to lift themselves out of poverty wasn’t new to me. Around the country, members of similar cooperatives are actively engaged in different economic activities.
The atrocities of 1994 led to gender ratio imbalances. The Genocide against the Tutsi and its ensuing exodus created a depleted nation in which women formed about 70% of the population.
Consequently, many women across the country found themselves shouldering the responsibility of providing for their families. Thrust into an unfamiliar territory, many rural women didn’t fare well in the competitive job market due to limited formal education or lack thereof.
Fortunately, the post-liberation enabling environment is helping women to break the long-standing barrier formed by generations of marginalization. The empowerment of women is a game changer.
While on the island, I was amazed by the day-to-day lives of my hosts. They wake up at dawn and paddle their dugout canoes to different fishing spots. Then they buy fresh fish from fishermen and proceed to the market.
Delivering fish to the market is not the only thing these proactive women do. They are also traditional dancers. Entertaining tourists is a way of expanding their business portfolio and diversifying their sources of income. In addition, they weave and handcraft souvenirs for sale.
Canoeing is physically taxing but Gihaya women do it effortlessly. It’s amazing how easy their strokes look. I was surprised to see them traversing the lake without life jackets. I know their swimming prowess is superb but I thought the regulations enforced by the authorities elsewhere apply to them too.
The wooden canoe I used wasn’t as fancy as the ones owned by Kingfisher Journeys but the experience was equally thrilling. In addition, indulging in one of my favorite water sporting activity with a team of mothers was out of the ordinary.