HIV doesn’t stop Marie-Claire from running a successful mobile phone business
Marie-Claire Ayurwanda stands on the rock foundation of the house she is building in Setwara, Rwanda, looking at the progress. “I want to finish building this house for my children before I die,” she says.
Although she smiles when she talks about her present and future, her past has not been easy. In addition to her own son, she cares for her brother’s two children who she took in after her brother was killed in the 1994 genocide. Her first husband died in 2003. She remarried and had a daughter, but left her second husband because of his problem with alcohol. Soon after, she discovered she had HIV.
After her second husband died, Marie-Claire decided to start a business. She took a 20,000 franc ($40) loan from Village Phone microfinance partner URWEGO to open the Isimbi Restaurant. The profits from the restaurant help support the four children in her household and pay school fees. If a customer wants to make a phone call, she proudly takes them to a separate, private room where she has set up her Village Phone. Her Village Phone business was so profitable that she was able to pay off the loan for it in five months (rather than the standard six months). She is one of the top five Village Phone operators in Rwanda, generating about US$624 a year for herself and her children in a country where the average income is around US$230 year.
Marie-Claire is honest about her HIV status. “I am very strong because of the medicine,” she says. “And I was able to tell my friends, and now they are on the drugs too.” In her village, she is the president of IMPUHWE, an association of people living with HIV.
She is now interested in adding a second phone that she can run in another small village. She also wants to buy a pickup truck to help others in IMPUHWE thrive economically. “People in the association have their own gardens with Irish potatoes. With a pickup, I can take the potatoes to Kigali and sell them.”