The trainer is already providing our participants with a grab-bag of farming techniques that they will rely on after they graduate. At the training site, a large number of different crops are cultivated in a variety of methods. Tomatoes are planted using a terraced technique and a large field approach. The farmers will compare these two methods, carry out the process through harvest, and then decide on what works best for their plots of land for future cultivation. Gilbert, our Income Generation Manager, points out nearby plots of land that are owned and tended by non-WfWI farmers and shows me the differences in farming practices. You can clearly see that the WfWI land is better-organized, producing a healthier and lush crop outcome, and utilizing innovative irrigation and planting techniques. At a neighboring farm, Gilbert sees two women who are burning weeds they picked on their land. He pauses our conversation to talk with them to explain that this will make their soil infertile and that they should stop this traditional practice. He sees that some farmers, however, are copying the organization of the WfWI demonstration farm, and is pleased that some of our participants’ techniques are spreading to other plots in the community.
Gilbert then takes me to our training facility in Burhuza. One of the key programs there is our bread-making initiative. Participants were hard at work, pounding out dough, forming small rolls and loaves of bread, waiting for it to proof and rise, and baking it in their double clay oven. After the training session, we went to the small village of Mushinga near Burhuza. Gilbert wanted me to meet three entrepreneurs who started a bread-making operation where they live. All of the equipment was purchased by the participants using their sponsorship funds – a single clay oven, two large baking trays, a bread mold, a used oven cover, a large table – totaling $125USD. All this, and they have not even graduated yet. In July, when they complete their training, they will receive the $60 each that they saved throughout the year. They plan on using it to grow their capital so they can increase the quantity of production. Because of the quality of their bread, which is well-known throughout Mushinga, they were recently asked to produce a large order for a wedding in the village. The demand is high, but they are struggling to keep up with the requests. In addition to using their savings, they will be able to access a micro-loan to grow their business and meet the needs of the village.
Gilbert is also looking to grow the bread-making program and make the training available to more participants. Currently, 1067 women are enrolled in the bread-making vocational training, in nine out of the 12 sites in DRC. He is pleased with the initiative of the three participants and plans to help others build ovens and start a small operation in their villages as well. This way, the women can earn income while training, like the three entrepreneurs.
From guinea pig breeding to tile-making; organic farming to culinary arts; bread-making to tailoring – the participants at Women for Women International are making an investment in themselves, their families, and their communities. Each woman I have met along the way has a new-found passion for her vocational training, a drive to succeed, and a determination to chart a new path in life. In the short time I have spent in Rwanda and DRC, I have encountered participants at every stage in their year-long development – learning life skills such as the importance of voting and civic participation; discussing nutrition and basic hygiene; receiving their sponsorship funds; starting their vocational skills training; learning how to count; utilizing organic farming techniques; graduating from the program; and becoming new entrepreneurs in their communities.
I can 100% report that your continued and generous support is making a HUGE difference in the daily lives of the women we serve and their families. Our staff continues to come up with innovative ways to engage our participants and ensure that they will graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be active participants in the social, civic, and economic advancement of their communities.
Thank you to all the Women for Women International staff in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially: Berra Kabarungi (Country Director, Rwanda); Christine Karumba (Country Director, DRC); Gertrude Mudekereza (Director of Programs, DRC); Patrick Njakani-Okoko (Goma Sub-Office Manager, DRC); Gilbert Kajabika (Income Generation Manager, DRC), and John Chuma (Sponsorship Translator, DRC). You have made my experience in your countries very enjoyable and educational. I look forward to relaying the many stories of the women we serve and our dedicated staff to our loyal supporters.
Liam Dall is the Senior Major Gifts Officer at Women for Women International. He traveled to Rwanda and DR Congo in June 2010.