Gathering Their Stories

"As someone who has developed an acute interest in, and passion for women’s empowerment in the past few years, the opportunity to intern with The Women’s Bakery in Kigali, Rwanda was truly incredible. Immediately upon arrival, I was welcomed onto the small but mighty TWB team. Within just a few days of tagging along and observing the large variety of tasks each day presented, I quickly came to appreciate TWB’s dedication to working efficiently and cohesively as a unit. It was clear that this was an environment where each member of the team was encouraged and expected to bring ideas to the table, and in turn those ideas would be received with support from the group, everyone working together to develop and implement them in the most effective way possible. It was this focus on support and encouragement that allowed me to execute a project I had been interested in conducting prior to my arrival in Kigali.

Upon first learning about the goals of The Women’s Bakery, and the work they are doing to reach those goals, I became interested in the experiences of the Rwandan women involved with the project. I was curious about the situations they had come from, what they felt they had gained in training with TWB, and what had changed in their lives as a result. These wonderings inspired the development of an interview project with the goal of talking with each of the women at the Kanombe and Remera bakeries in Kigali, and gathering their stories. I thought promoting the voices of these individual women would be beneficial for not only me but also those interested in the work of TWB, as it serves as a connecting force. Hearing their stories allows others honest insight into the reality of the issues, as well as the effectiveness of different approaches to women’s empowerment.

When I mentioned my general idea of gathering the stories of the women at the Kanombe and Remera bakeries, I was met with the same enthusiasm and support I had originally observed amongst the TWB team. I soon started working with Yvonne and Aimé to record and translate interviews with all eight women. This process remains one of my most valued and memorable experiences from my month in Rwanda. The interviews revealed seemingly endless thoughtful and inspiring words on the part of the women. Reviewing each interview with Aimé involved stopping the voice recording approximately every thirty seconds to write down another meaningful, thought-provoking quote. At some point in their interview, each woman discussed how their thinking has shifted, broadened in a way that has allowed them to work together with others, improve the health of themselves and their families, and to feel independent. This confidence in themselves, and their new skillsets became evident when they talked about their hopes for the future. Many women expressed their dream of seeing their bakeries grow to be famous everywhere, as well as their hope to someday train other women in the same way they were trained by TWB. It was these moments in the interviews that filled me with an overwhelming sense of excitement. In one conversation I had with some members of the TWB team, they said that if they are doing their jobs right, they shouldn’t be needed down the line. It seems from these interviews that a cycle of empowerment has been kick started through the avenue of education, and I feel incredibly lucky to have engaged with its inception."

- Julia Simoes, St. Lawrence University Class of '17