In January, The Women’s Bakery will celebrate our 2nd birthday in East Africa. As we say in Kinyarwanda, Isabukuru Nziza.
In this time, we have been kneading, shaping, and sharing bread with women, men, and communities, both urban and rural alike. From noisy, cramped shops in Kigali to the rolling, lush green hills of the Western Province, our team has traversed the country to leverage the simplicity and affinity of bread (“imigati” in Kinyarwanda) for autonomy and opportunity through small business creation. Bread is brilliant; it requires few ingredients and it is a product forever in demand. Plus, who doesn’t love bread?
Around the world, eating and sharing bread is a communal process, often symbolizing peace. In Rwanda, for example, it’s not uncommon to cook a traditional Rwandan dish, ubugari, or cassava bread, and have three, four, five, or six people pulling pieces from the bread at once. There is truly something soulful about eating meals like this – together.
TWB has come a long way, too. We started baking bread in Rwanda in 2012, in small villages out in the Eastern part of the country. Then, it was just an idea.
Today, it’s a reality.
And here’s the really crazy part: our bakeries are relevant not just in Rwanda. TWB bakeries can (and will) be relevant around the world. Our model – investing in education, women, and business incubation – works because skill development (with a viable product) can act as a catalyst for income generation, empowerment, and education anywhere.
Since the beginning of our journey, it has been the goal of both Markey and Julie, our co-founders, to adapt this model as a relevant option for women outside of Rwanda. Our focus remains – and will continue to be – on Rwanda and East Africa, but we have been mindful of potential entry points elsewhere to provide opportunity – for everyone.
In November, after months of planning and discussion, we launched a pilot program, We Baked This, with African Community Center in Denver. With the goal of future partnership for testing a US-adapted training program, TWB was hired to conduct a 10-week training program for a small group of refugee women from countries including Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This group has already learned how to make healthy food choices in American grocery stores, how to read a bread recipe, and how to bake our delicious sweet potato bread.
We will conclude this pilot program in January with the hopes of continuing a partnership with ACC. This way, our model will be available and pertinent to women’s groups in the United States. We are exploring product variation, like bread mixes, to see if there is a viable market for micro-enterprise and vocational education.
Projects like this give me hope, enthusiasm, and zest for The Women’s Bakery. They give me hope because working on behalf of women – whether in Rwanda or the United States – has been a dream of mine since I was young. And, more than just advocating for women’s opportunity, The Women’s Bakery delivers.
It’s not just us, either. It’s the women we work with, the Rwandans that help mobilize and deliver our model, and the supporters we have all over the world. Making bread relevant for all requires the investment of all, too. We’re all needed. And we’re glad you are with us.
May this holiday season (and 2017!) remind you of the possibility and potency that bread and empowerment have anywhere. May you reflect and know that you can be a part of this, believing that a simple slice of bread has the power to change the world.