Helen Niwemahoro (aged 36) lives in Simbi sector, Huye district with her husband (50), their three sons (aged 19, 17 and 11) and three daughters (aged nine, four and one). The nine and 11-year-old attend a nearby primary school. Helen has completed primary school education while her husband has not attained any formal education. Her main occupation is farming but she is also a beneficiary of the Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP), a public works programme that involves making terraces and working on road and bridge construction. This work takes place every day from 7.30am until 3pm so she works almost 40 hours per week; plus it takes her up to 50 minutes to walk to the VUP site. Her husband is employed as a security guard but he only works two days a week. Though the money earned at the site enables her to support her family, it is not enough and it is not paid on time. Even though the VUP site doesn’t offer childcare services Helen still has to take her two young children to work with her as there is no one else to look after them at home when both she and her husband have to go to work.
As Helen has a big family she finds that there is a lot of care work to do. The care activities include cleaning, cooking, fetching water, collecting firewood and washing clothes. Her elder son (who only completed primary school) helps her do some care activities. As he is no longer going to school he is at home most of the time and Helen said,
‘My son helps me to do care work; he finished primary six last year. He does care work and this takes most of his time. Others go to schools except those who are still young.’
Her husband also helps when he is available at home and can do some care activities like chopping wood and caring for the children.
Combining paid work and care work is a challenge for Helen because her family is so big and the children’s needs differ widely as their ages vary so much. Her husband was married previously and has children from the first marriage: ‘though she is a second wife to me, she behaves like a mother to my old children. They respect her and they discuss about family issues. I cannot say how good it is.’ She wakes up very early in the morning and makes sure that food is available for the day before going to work and her husband said,
‘I am very grateful to my wife because she works hard to support the family.’
She leaves early in the morning to walk to work at the VUP site which is far from her home and she comes back late in the evening.
Helen says that accessing water and firewood is a big challenge in her village. Therefore, she wants the government and development organisations to provide them with accessible water, reliable cooking energy and access to electricity.