Global Grassroots 2011 Year-End Magazine - Page 24

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Global Grassroots 2011

What Jeanette Muteteri likes most about her Nyarugenge District neighborhood are its working women. Jeanette loves to see other women out in her community, working, involved, entangled. “It makes me very happy,” she says.

Jeanette is neither loud nor chatty. She smiles often, but each smile spreads slowly, tentatively, across her face. She does not fit the stereotype of the community leader or loud, interfering manager. But quietly, Jeanette has reached out across her community and wound herself up in its life; a sturdy, supportive vine is perhaps the appropriate image. Jeanette’s success as a social change agent results from her entanglement in every layer of her world: her Nyarugenge community; the network of sellers and workers at her local marketplace; the Have a Good Life project team; and, her family.

Jeanette’s deep involvement in her community is remarkable given her personal history. Born in Uganda to a Rwandan family, Jeanette spent her childhood in Mbarara and Kampala.

community – especially its women – and they know her. She knows her community’s weaknesses and challenges.

If women had “a problem that was hurting them…they would share it,” Jeanette explains.

Jeanette sells second-hand clothing at the Nyamirambo market, not far from her home. She has many close friendships within the community of sellers and traders at the market. In fact, the Have a Good Life project arose from conversations within Jeanette’s market ‘family’ about the problems faced by local women. In 2006, a group of fifteen market sellers concluded that the greatest obstacles to women’s health, development, and quality of life all stemmed from one problem: water scarcity.

Women were abused or violated while searching for, or fighting over, water. “Some were going to fetch water very far, in the valleys. They spent a long time there, and it’s an isolated place, so they got raped there,” Jeanette explains. “Others were sending young men to fetch water for them because it was difficult for them to do that. In exchange, [the men] came and had sex [with the women] at home.” HIV rates rose as a result. Children missed school regularly to trek down and fetch water for their families. The dirty valley water led to severe cases of diarrhea and other diseases, especially among children.

She was eighteen when she and her family uprooted to Rwanda, but Jeanette settled in quickly. She spent only four days in eastern Rwanda before moving to Nyarugenge District. “It was not difficult for me to adapt to this country,” she says. “Here in Rwanda… there are friends, people who love me, and the people I love.” She has remained in the same neighborhood, now, for seventeen years. She knows her

Change Agent Profile:

Jeanette Muteteri

Have a Good Life*

By Christina Hueschen

photo by Laya Madsen