In rural Rwanda budding footballers can be seen kicking about on dusty clay paths while dreaming of a place in the national team. Their footballs are far from FIFA-standard, made out of frayed banana leaves tied together with twine.
Silas Kubwamariya (15) from Gitarama has a shot at this dream: he has been ranked as one of the top 30 footballers in the country. Only, he has never owned a football. Not even a banana leaf one. “I don’t have money to waste on things like that,” he says. “I’m paying for food and school.”
Silas father was killed during the genocide and from a very young age he felt responsible for his family. He’s had to suppress his dreams of emulating his hero, Ronaldo, to set his sights closer to home.
At age 11 Silas realised that his mother wouldn’t be able to keep in him school. Displaying astute entrepreneurship, he visited a local credit union funded by Trócaire. The credit union gives people who are too poor to join a bank, small loans to invest in earning money and helps them save.
Silas Kubwamariya (15) pictured with friends in Gitarama, Rwanda
Silas wanted to buy a banana field that his aunt was selling but he knew he was too young to get a loan. It didn’t stop him. He simply added a few years to his age. He had a sure-fire plan that would allow his mother part ownership based on payments she could afford.
Silas borrowed the equivalent of €64 to buy the land. He made his repayments and also earned enough to buy a cow and a pig, while his mother grew soya and bananas. With the income he and his sister have paid secondary school fees of €40 per term.
That’s a lot of money in a country with an average income below 75c a day.
It’s difficult to remember that Silas is just 15. “Before I borrow I always have a plan. I’ve never missed a payment,” he says. The young businessman is now teaching local teenagers about savings and loans and plans to set up another business.
Silas’ ambition is to go to university to study finance or statistics. He knows this is out of the ordinary for a boy from his background. "I was born into a poor family,” he says. “But if I get a bit of support I will have lots of achievements.” Because poverty doesn’t always stand in the way of dreams.