Rafiki Ntakirutimana (SYTRIECI – Rwanda)

Twenty-four-year-old Rafiki Ntakirutimana, tall, athletic, and distinguishable among other market vendors for his youth, is packing away the grocery bags and envelopes he sells from his stall at the vegetable market’s edge. Soon, he will head home to his improvised family of three children—former street children he now provides for.

Not long ago, Rafiki himself was a child living hardscrabble on the street. As he recounts, “my mother chased me from home, and thereafter I was forced to leave the school. During several nights, I had nothing to eat. Many times, I got sick and had no possibility to get medical services. I used to carry bags for people coming for shopping. I was often beaten because there is no security on the road, especially when you are young, walking and struggling day and night.”

In order to try to support himself, Rafiki decided to invest the one dollar he had to his name in envelopes and shopping bags he could sell on the street. He believes he would still be selling on the street, sleeping outside, eating nothing, and continuing to carry shoppers’ bags had he not encountered SYTRIECI two years ago.

After learning about the benefits membership could bring, he decided to join, attending monthly meetings and participating in trainings around savings, negotiations, and job creation for youth.

In fact, SYTRIECI has a specific Youth Program that concentrates on organizing youth vendors into small groups and youth social solidarity funds so that they can contribute to their own development.

This focus reflects StreetNet International’s focus on improving the lives and livelihoods of future generations of street vendors. By sharing experiences, developing common strategies, and strengthening organizational structures within unions like SYTRIECI, youth can generate a culture of empowerment and solidarity.

Rafiki feels both this sense of solidarity and a sense of responsibility keenly. As he says, he’s now the leader of other children selling envelopes. He’s part of an SSF, so he’s been able to take out microcredit to raise his capital. As a result, he says, “I no longer live on the street. I can pay rental money for my house, and I can buy food for me and the other children I live with.”

Rafiki says this is not yet enough. He would like training on more advanced business management, so he can continue to improve his income. “I need a permanent house,” he says, “so that I can offer a home to more street children who were suffering like I was.”

But for now, as day settles into night, Rafiki heads towards the home where three children already count on his continuing triumph over hardship.

Read all our stories of street vendors in Rwanda by downloading the PDF.