When 19-year-old Yvette Ishimwe’s family relocated from Kigali to Kayonza district, 90 kilometres east, the experience was overwhelming. It was difficult for them to settle, particularly because there was no access to clean water for domestic use.
But Ms. Ishimwe decided to overcome this challenge and launch a business to supply her neighbours with clean drinking water.
The Eastern Province is one of the driest parts of Rwanda, with long droughts and acute water shortages. As a result, the water utility has often been unable to provide clean water to residents. In this area, a jerry can of clean water can sell for 200-300 Rwandan francs ($0.25 – $0.38 US). Many Kayonza residents use dirty water from nearby swamps for cooking, which puts their health at risk.
So when Ms. Ishimwe’s mother bought a water tank to harvest rainwater, the teenager decided to launch a business she calls Iriba Clean Water Delivery. She purchased an ultraviolet water purifier and experimented with the family water tank.
Ms. Ishimwe says: “After I was satisfied with the results, I started supplying clean water to over 20 families in the neighbourhood during the pilot phase of the innovation…. I used the feedback to improve all aspects of the business, and also continued expanding the water distribution to cover more people in our village.”
The family’s first water tank held 20,000 litres of water, but Ms. Ishimwe bought an additional 10,000-litre tank to meet the expanding demand. Within a few months, demand grew even more, and she bought a third tank which holds 35,000 litres.
She accesses water from Lake Muhazi. She adds chlorine to the water storage tanks to control harmful bacteria. The water is then pumped through an ultraviolet purification system. Then it is ready for drinking.
The business required a large initial investment. The water purifier cost 400,000 Rwandan francs ($500 US). Ms. Ishimwe paid for it in part from her savings, and in part with a loan from her mother.
She sells water in 20-litre jerry cans for 60-100 Rwandan francs ($0.08 – $0.13 US). She delivers the jerry cans to her neighbours’ homes with the help of six employees on bicycles.
Ms. Ishimwe now has two water collection centres—one in Munazi village and another in Kayonza town. She adds, “Currently, I am distributing clean water to over 200 people a day, but there are other people who collect the water from the two centres themselves.”
On average, she earns 900,000 Rwandan francs per month ($1,130 US).
But the costs of maintaining the business are high. She must hire cars to pump water from Lake Muhazi, and it’s expensive to maintain the water tanks.
But she is dedicated to her new enterprise. She says, “I always try to think positively, ensuring proper monitoring of the project to give residents safe water.”
To read the full article on which this story is based, How 19-year-old Ishimwe fixed Kayonza’s water problem, go to: http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/article/2016-08-16/202633/ 
Photo credit: The New Times