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