When I left my Peace Corps village in Gicumbi District in August 2017, I knew I would be back. What I didn’t realize was that I would return so soon and that I would be launching TWB’s fifth Bakery in a Box training program with a group of refugee and Rwandese women.
In November 2017, I sat down with TWB’s Country Director, Noel, to discuss potential new sites to launch a bakery in Rwanda. We had both recently joined the TWB team and were eager to select a new location for TWB’s expansion. When he asked me my thoughts, I almost jumped out of my chair with excitement, “Gicumbi!”
Around two weeks later, Noel, Julie and I took our first of many trips up to the true north of Rwanda- just 1.5 hours outside of Kigali but world’s different. We visited with local leaders I had built relationships with during my two years there, cruised around the extremely mountainous and beautiful sector and started imagining #breadpower making an impact in Gicumbi.
As we curved around the large hills, I pointed out the refugee camp that was near Gicumbi Town. It’s one of the oldest camps in the north and consists almost entirely of Congolese refugees who fled in the early to mid-90s. Although during my Peace Corps service I never entered the camp, I was well aware of its presence, the prevalence of unemployment and malnutrition. Not to mention Gicumbi was seriously lacking fresh, nutritious bread. Most of the bread is high in oil, sugar and other preservatives and shipped in from Uganda, Kigali and other edges of the country. What an opportunity to provide TWB’s fresh, nutritious bread to the Gicumbi community and vocational training and employ Rwandans AND refugees in one of the most lush, beautiful districts in Rwanda? The ball was rolling.
After a few more trips, connecting with District and Camp leaders and some phone calls with our U.S. team, we decided Gicumbi would be the next location for our new bakery. And this time we were doing things differently. Among independently vetting candidates, securing a multi-functional house for training and a bakery and revamping our curriculum, Gicumbi is TWB’s first training with refugees, and it’s a population the team has dreamed of including for a while.
On Tuesday, April 24th, 2018, we officially launched our new bakery training with a mix of 16 incredible Rwandese and refugee women. Local leaders informed us that Rwandans and refugees already had a positive relationship, and that the Government of Rwanda’s priority is to develop programs to foster even stronger connections the two populations.
In the first week of training, Aime, the Training Manager and I, both witnessed the positive relations between Rwandese and refugees. We witnessed constant support, encouragement and communication as they learned about what TWB is and does, Business Math, Nutrition and Personal Growth and Development. They took a pre-test and baseline survey so we can measure the impact of our training program and get to know them on a deeper level. A bakery is never just a bakery. We want these women, like all our current women employees, to feel safe, empowered and healthy.
It was inspiring to see women from different backgrounds, different hardships, different cultures, all sit together in the same room and all want the same thing: opportunity. An opportunity to gain knowledge, skills, confidence, and income. An opportunity to change the social and economic factors of their lives. In the past, many of these women, especially the refugees, have lacked choice and opportunity for a better life.
Now, over the course of two months, they will have access to TWB’s comprehensive vocational business training program and the opportunity for immediate employment following.
These women are the next group of Strong Women Baking Bread, and I’m so excited to watch them rise.