My mom recently visited Rwanda. It was her first time to Africa, and she is the first person in my family to come and visit us and see where we live, and our lives working “in development”. Of course, I wanted her to have the best possible time while showing her the beauty of Rwanda and our lives as expats. However, I equally wanted her to have the opportunity to learn about the history of Rwanda and its people, and to meet and engage with them. Her life as a woman in Canada is very different from that of a woman in Rwanda, in particular the life of a village woman.
What is life like for a rural Rwandan Woman?
The average woman in Rwanda works in agriculture, for long hours every day, and most of what she grows is consumed by her family, leaving her with little income left. She will likely earn less than $2.00 USD a day. My mother lives in a place where a woman may earn on average around $100-200 USD a day. Obviously the cost of living must be considered, but Rwanda is still one of the poorest countries in the world. That being said, it’s made tremendous strides in the past 20 years, the life of a woman is changing. There are opportunities to learn new skills, to learn English, to become literate in Kinyarwanda (the native language in Rwanda), and to look at ICT, tourism and exports as income generation. My mom loved her experience, and as someone with no background in development, picked up on the greatest challenge for those of us who dedicate our careers to improving the lives of the poor.
My mom said to me “what is the bridge between the rural life, or the old life, and this new life being forged for Rwandans? There needs to be many bridges to connect skills with jobs and income, or else these rural women will be left behind, which the urbanites reap the benefits”. It was very astute and so true. As an Education Advisor, I work with Ministry of Education colleagues everyday to think about how to build these bridges, and ensure that our solutions are sustainable. We don’t want cracks in our foundation.
Azizi Life - Building Strong Foundations
In Rwanda, there are incredible organisations making a difference for women. We'll feature them on our site. Azizi Life is one such organisation. They “celebrate the beauty of connections: connections that bring a fair wage to hard-working Rwandan artisans; connections that give you a glimpse into someone else's world; connections that put beautiful and functional art at your fingertips!”
Just visiting their main office in Muhanga (Gitarama - about a 1h20min drive from Kigali) you also get a feel for how much Azizi is bringing the outside world to these woman. If you buy products, a lovely woman will ring you up using an iPad app, sending you an electronic receipt to your email, Apple-style. All the women come to the office, which has computers and beautifully-made brochures and business cards. These ladies (and men) are hip, I tell you!
Today, Azizi works with 25 independent groups of artisans, in small groups of 15-20, 95% of whom are women. These incredible women work in cooperatives and learn the skills needed to be experts in their areas of work, making high-quality baskets, jewellery, homewares, cards, and other specialities. I’ve seen a lot of handicrafts in my day, and Azizi’s products are by far the highest quality I’ve seen in Rwanda. You can visit their website, order anywhere internationally online, and be amazed for yourself (check out their cute Christmas decorations!) You can also buy their products in Kigali at their shop in Heaven Restaurant.
Cultural Immersion Experience
Azizi also offers a Cultural Tourism Experience where you can see what it's like to be a rural Rwandese woman. I’ve heard great things about it, but never actually bothered to go as I thought “I work in development, I know what life is like already!” But I decided to take my mom as I knew it would be a unique experience for her. However, I too was blown away by the experience, and learned new things, bonding with an amazing group of ladies who taught me a lot. It was also really special doing it with my mom, as mother’s are held in such high regard in Rwanda.
We did the 1/2 day experience, leaving Kigali around 7:30 am. We arrived to the office for 9:00, and were done by 14:00. We then spent the night at Jangwe Lodge, enjoying a lovely dinner with Georges and Lydie, driving back to Kigali the next day. You just need to get yourself to the office in Muhanga, but Azizi emails you with all the info, even for public transport. Azizi also provides you with a guide (Patrick was awesome!) and he takes you to the village, with organised transportation. The 1/2 day was just enough to try a variety of activities (see photos below):
- Working in the fields doing traditional agriculture
- Fetching water (a great walk!)
- Preparing traditional foods (cassava, maize, sweet potatoes)
- Cooking lunch
- Meeting the community and saying hello to the children
- Eating together with the ladies (my favourite part)
- Trying traditional handicrafts, such as basket weaving and bracelet making
- Singing and dancing (if you’re up for it!)
We kept open minds and asked lots of questions. My advice - be relaxed and try to joke with the women and treat them as new friends - they really are open and caring and so much fun! The guide was able to translate everything for us, and the women also asked us lots of questions about our lives too. We really felt that we were part of their team that day, and never felt like we were invading on their life in any way (as an ethical developmentalist that was my original concern). But this is a great tourism project which provides income generation to the community as a whole. We joked about children, they loved my attempts in Kinyarwanda, and they especially liked when my mom told them she enjoyed beer! We’ve been invited back for an evening experience 'off-programme' to try banana beer and dance with the ladies, haha.
So overall I’d highly recommend trying Azizi life. It was a perfectly organised and accurate glimpse into rural Rwanda life. We even met the children preparing to bury an 11 year-old who had died a few days before from Malaria. That was a unique experience for my mom to process and see that life in Rwanda can be difficult, but she was touched by how the whole community comes together to say goodbye, supporting each other and providing a helping hand.
See below pictures from our day - if you wish to ask us any questions just comment below. We can provide more info, and of course, the Azizi Life website is fantastic.
Thanks to the women of Shoygwe for your fantastic hospitality - muri inshuti zangye.