Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Empowering Women Through Bread Power and Gardens

This summer I was fortunate to spend 10 weeks in Kigali, Rwanda, working with an organization called The Women’s Bakery (TWB). Founded by former Peace Corps volunteers, TWB is a hybrid social enterprise built around the belief that community development and empowerment starts with education – or what we call bread power. By offering women access to knowledge, education, and applied business, nutrition, and health skills, we can spark/inspire generations of strong, independent women who feel empowered by what they do and are able to provide for their families. The first few weeks on field was a blur of euphoria and utter fascination for the organization. Educating, inspiring, and empowering women through sustainable bakery businesses? Not to mention their breads are chock full of nutrients, local vegetables and absolutely delicious? Heck yes, I was sold! I was so excited to immerse myself in the field of global public health/non-profit work and hopefully make a little dent in the organization with a bit of my own contribution.
My time in Rwanda was spent working on two main projects. One revolved around research and building the nutritional landscape of the country. As it’s such a broad theme, I decided to tackle this by delving into various national databases and reading up on nutrition-related research and literature based in Rwanda and the greater East Africa. I wanted to understand the current situation around health and nutrition of the region and whether we could incorporate culturally relevant ingredients into our breads to attract local customers and make it more accessible to the general public.
The other side of my project was a lot of fun and it gave me the chance to get down and dirty with Rwandan soil! As TWB expands their networks and curriculum this coming year, their vision also included the establishment of bakery gardens at the sites so that fresh vegetables can be the harvested and used directly for their baked products. The two pilot gardens I worked on were in Ndera and Remera, which had vastly differing landscapes from one another. Due to the lack of space in the Remera bakery, we settled on using planters to grow beets and carrots for the nutritious muffin recipes. On the other hand, Ndera’s vast acreage allowed us to build direct beds on the plot and practice succession planting by sowing a bunch of different seeds for carrots, beets, cabbage, and dodo.  
During my time in Rwanda I faced many challenges, a few of which were the inherent language barrier and the difficulty in earning the women’s trust and buy-in. By scheduling regular meetings, I was able to relay the project’s purpose and long-term benefits of having a garden for both the bakery and the individual. I feel that this experience has definitely developed my patience and I have come to realize that communication and trust builds the foundation to any good relationship.
Although the first harvest will begin long after I leave Rwanda, I have high hopes that these strong women can have fun in the garden and continue what I’ve started!
Written by Rina Hisamatsu
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Country of Origin: Japan
Master's of Public Health student in Nutritional Sciences

Thursday, August 3, 2017

How to Cheaply Furnish Your Apartment

You’ve navigated the numerous housing options in Ann Arbor, signed a lease, and now you have a place to call home! But, how do you make it actually feel like home? There are many different places to buy furniture, kitchenware, and decor in Ann Arbor, but doing so on a student budget may seem challenging. Below are some options to furnish your apartment affordably:

  1. Thrift Shops - Salvation Army, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity. Thrift shops sell used items donated by members of the community. Because these goods are used, they tend to be very inexpensive. However, it would be wise to carefully check and inspect any items you are interested in buying. Some of my favorite items to buy at thrift stores are kitchenware items such as bowls, plates, glasses, and cups. Larger furniture pieces like tables may be available, but they may be quite worn. If you enjoy vintage goods or antiques, thrift shops are a fun place to look around for interesting items.

  1. Retail stores - Target, Meijer, Walmart. You can buy cheap furniture at these stores (though the quality tends to differ). If you are looking for basic home essentials, such as towels or diningware, these stores have you covered. If you like to cook, I would not recommend buying the cheapest available pots or pans from these stores since the quality isn’t the greatest. These stores are a good option for purchasing a television or small kitchen appliances such as microwaves, coffee makers, and blenders. Most of these stores also double as a supermarket, so you can pick up food, cleaning supplies, and other household items.

  1. Discount retail stores - Marshalls, TJ Maxx. These stores all sell brand new items at a discount because they may be considered “out of season.” You can find brand-name or imported cookware, kitchen gadgets, bedding, decor, and bathroom items here. Most of the things sold at TJ Maxx and Marshalls tend to be of better quality than similar items at Walmart, Meijer, or Target.

  1. IKEA - This Swedish company is known worldwide for the thousands of home furnishing items sold in their giant stores. All items sold at IKEA are brand new, and most items will require some kind of assembly. IKEA sells large furniture pieces (mattresses, bed frames, dressers, bookshelves, couches, etc.) and smaller items as well. The closest IKEA to Ann Arbor is in Canton, which is about 30 minutes away by car. If you are interested in going to IKEA, the International Center has organized transportation to and from the Canton store on August 27. Please check the IC website for details.

This isn’t a complete list of all the shopping options available in the area, but they’re good places to start!

Written by Janice Tse
International Center Summer Orientation Peer Adviser
Country of Origin: United States
Master's student in Higher Education