On February 4th, 2015, our Women’s Bakery team, Founder Markey Culver and East African Director Julie Greene, took off for Bukoba, Tanzania via Kigali, Rwanda. With its founding roots in Rwanda, The Women’s Bakery (TWB) spent six days in Kigali establishing local partnerships for growth and expansion, most notably with the United States Peace Corps. TWB will partner with Peace Corps Rwanda on two fronts: In the field as an available conduit to groups of women who have participated in and successfully completed a _ week financial literacy training and in Kigali as an employer of third-year Peace Corps Volunteers. The field groups is an exciting opportunity for TWB as it links interested and prepared women’s groups to TWB, thereby offering them entrepreneurial opportunity and business training. The opportunity to employ third-year Peace Corps Volunteers is equally as exciting. Third-year PCVs are, in many ways, like golden tickets for international organizations: Not only have third-year PCVs lived internationally (in this case, Rwanda) for two years, but intimately so. Their experiences afford them cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity, local language proficiency, and realistic “development” perspectives. As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers themselves, Markey and Julie see great value in the PCV skill set and believe third-year PCVs can help to foster the East African infrastructure of TWB, i.e.: training local leadership. TWB plans to initiate Rwandan fieldwork in June and hire third-year PCVs in November.
After Kigali, Markey and Julie set off for the 400km, 10+ hour, dirt-road journey to Bukoba, Tanzania. The road trip was relatively uneventful, with only one flat tired, but enough dust to fill the car twice over. TWB will spend three months in Bukoba, training 20 women in basic business and baking skills. The 20 trainees are members of a women’s cooperative called The Bukoba Women’s Empowerment Association, or BUWEA. BUWEA has grown from six members in 2006 to over 450 members today and specializes in micro-loans and project creation. TWB was connected to BUWEA through an organization called Micro-financing Partners in Africa (MPA), a St. Louis-based non-profit. A year ago, Markey connected with MPA after successfully launching her first bakery in Bushoga, Rwanda. MPA liked to idea of TWB training at BUWEA and within a year the idea blossomed into reality.
TWB’s training extends beyond simple baking training. The training is designed to prepare women for nearly every aspect of local business creation – from sourcing nutritious ingredients locally, to preparing locally-tailored, tasty fortified breads; from proper nutrition and hygiene, to proper inventory and bookkeeping; from locally-tailored marketing, sales and distribution, to oven construction and packaging. TWB does it all. And we do it with an eye and ear trained to the local pulse.