It is always interesting to me, I think, how places are full of senses that are undeniably familiar and unchanging. Rwanda, for example, consistently smells and feels the same to me; the scent of burning wood and the heaviness of the air under the sun conjure memories, experiences, and the strange familiarity I have with Rwanda.
Last month, I exited a plane that ventured all the way from Amsterdam to Kigali, along with TWB’s Co-Founder & COO, Julie Greene. I’ve known Julie a long time – back to our Peace Corps Rwanda days – and so it was nice to return to this country by her side. We managed to get our bags (most of them) and head back to our East Africa team’s home in Kigali. I recognized these smells, feelings, and the day-to-day life of Rwanda right away; it’s good to be back, I thought (albeit very tiredly).
I couldn’t wait to get in our bakeries and see the work that has evolved within our business in Rwanda.
I last spent time in Rwanda with The Women’s Bakery in the fall of 2015.
Back then, we were just launching our first formal Rwanda-based training with a group of 15 women. Since our initial start-up days, TWB has launched a small bakery in the city with this group, along with the numerous other projects we have started around the country – just to the East, in Ndera, and also out in the Western part of the country, in a community called Bumba. TWB has grown and scaled, and it’s been an indescribable opportunity to be a part of.
Most of this growth, however, has happened while I have been working on TWB stateside. While I have been sharing about our work, managing communications and awareness efforts, and working to launch our pilot programming in Denver, TWB has become a well-known organization in Rwanda. And, our Remera, Kigali bakery has also become recognized in the neighborhood community, known for our “good bread” and “friendly service,” per some of our regular customer base, of whom I have had the fortunate chance to talk with. Being back in Rwanda, and with our team, has built a quick and mighty respect for what we, and for what the women in our program, have built.
I’m in awe of the tenacity and commitment that this kind of work requires. Small business development is hard anywhere, but the women we work with are making it happen.
Most profoundly, on a recent morning of baking, I felt an immense wave of gratitude as Liziki, a long-time baker with us, taught me how to properly master our Tresse, Croissant, and Sandwich shapes for our yeast bread product line. Sure, I know how to bake carrot or beet bread like the back of my hand, but these are new innovations in our product line that I previously did not know how to bake. Like a student willing to learn anything, I asked questions and shaped the dough repetitively so I could, with time, acquire this technical skill. I love learning from our bakers in Kigali; it reminds me that we are all teachers, just as we are all learners.
The women in our Kigali Bakery (Remera) have an incredible work-flow and understanding of the ins-and-outs of making a bakery work. Always, there are improvements to make, but what I appreciate most, thus far on this visit, is realizing that when you trust knowledge to have the power it can hold, often, it works.
Education is powerful. Empowerment is when this kind of education has an application, purpose, and leverage for opportunity.
I will be with our Rwanda team for the next month and I’m genuinely, authentically jazzed to learn more. Really, that’s what it is all about. Bread power.