In a tiny, rural settlement in the mountains surrounding Rwanda’s capital city, the women walk 3-4 hours up and down the hills to collect from contaminated creeks the water their families need to survive each day.
Seraphine Hacimana explains, “Although the problem of water affected all Rwandans, it fell more heavily on us, the women and children. The problem included the need to travel very far to find water that was dirty and useless, putting women at risk of being raped.”
Women in Seraphine’s community, including the blind, pregnant, elderly, disabled and sick, were often forced to trade sex in exchange for the delivery of water that they could not collect on their own.
In response, Seraphine, a mother of eight with only a 1st grade education, recruited 18 other widows and mothers and enrolled in Global Grassroots’ 18-month social venture incubator. With a small grant, they founded “Hard Workers,” their own clean water venture to ensure no woman was ever sexually exploited again to meet their basic needs.
After five years, this non-profit venture is fully sustainable. It began serving 100 households, but has expanded to reach close to 6000 people. They offer workshops in hygiene and gender-based violence, pay for women’s health insurance and orphan school fees and initiated a microcredit fund for vulnerable women. As “Hard Workers” demonstrates, when grassroots women like Seraphine have access to the resources and opportunity to design and operate their own local water ventures, they become community leaders and change agents.