Shalom Cooperative (Producer Co-op Rwanda)
Name of Co-operative: Shalom Cooperative
Date of Incorporation: 6/16/2008
Membership: There are 32 members of Shalom Cooperative, 26 women and 6 men. The members are Rwandan, and have 25 years or older. Over 50% of the members are PLWHA.
Activity: craft production and chili production
Organisational Form: Producer Co-op
Area Served: Rwamagana, Kigali, and other villages of Rwanda
Story of the Co-op
The Shalom cooperative was formed primarily to alleviate problems rooting from poverty and unemployment. Other needs identified were psycho-social support, since a majority of the members are living with HIV and/or are widows due to the 1994 genocide.
The Shalom Cooperative began as a self-help group of 43 members in the Mwurire Sector of Rwamagana, a small town in the Eastern province of Rwanda. After two years, they formed an association called Wikwiheba that aimed to support people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) in the community. The association members encouraged community members to partake in voluntary counseling and testing (VCT), and through this process, the majority of the members discovered that they were in fact HIV positive. Because the members lived in the same residential sector, they were able to meet on a regular basis to discuss social and economic issues. In a general meeting held on the 16th of June 2008, participants from the Wikwiheba Association made the decision to register at the district level as a cooperative called Shalom. This would enable the members to economically sustain themselves through income generating activities.
The vision statement of the co-op is to improve socio-economic conditions of its members while fighting against HIV/AIDS.
The members decided to use the model of a co-op in order to focus on increasing the income generated through their various activities. The government of Rwanda has made an effort to encourage farmers and other producers to form co-operatives. The government provides free trainings in organizational development and management to cooperative members through the Rwandan Cooperative Agency.
The co-operative benefits both the local communities as well the co-op sector. The members are economically active, and thus serve as a model to other community members who are unemployed and stigmatized. The co-op defines success as the ability to achieve economic sustainability, without reliance on outside funding.
Starting the Co-op
As fore mentioned, the cooperative evolved slowly from a self-help group who met to practice saving and lending as well discuss health and socio-economic issues. Most of the cooperative members were raised as children by cultivators, and therefore learned traditional farming skills. They used these skills to begin producing urusenda, hot chili peppers.
The cooperative received trainings in business and marketing skills through the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project. They currently receive funds from a local non-profit for their children's school fees, scholastic materials, and health insurance.
The greatest obstacles the co-op encounters are poor attendance due to health issues and overall discouragement due to their living conditions. The cooperative has a basic business plan in place, but no major feasibility studies have been done.
The cooperative is organized by three organs: the administrative, supervisory, and general assembly. The administrative committee includes the president, vice president, secretary, and four advisors. Each member must follow specific by-laws and attend bi-weekly organizational meetings. At the meetings, the members of the general assembly have one vote, whereby majority rules. Each member began with purchasing a small share of 2000 Rwf.
The Shalom cooperative has a simple and reasonable goal, an aim to become economically independent of any aid in the next three years, and is not far from achieving this goal. "We have gained enough already from the cooperative; our minds are economically active," the president stated. The cooperative is expanding their efforts, continuing act as role models for other HIV-positive women in the community, by demonstrating their ability to overcome battles like HIV and poverty.
Because daily cultivation has become far too laborious for those living with HIV/AIDS, Shalom cooperative has shifted their focus in the last few months from chili production to earring production. Many of the women were already equipped with weaving skills since childhood, and now they are able to make the products in their homes while also caring for their children or other family members. Shalom Cooperative is currently preparing for a business exposition to display their traditionally woven earrings at a local hotel in Rwamagana.