Reaching further: A new direction for the Niyamirambo Women’s Center

During my Rwanda travels, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Niyamirambo Women’s Center with some pretty special ladies to contribute a bit of work to their, well, work! Look for the following article to appear on the NWC blog soon, penned by yours truly to support this incredible women’s organisation in Kigali. 

 

Since it’s humble beginnings in 2007, the ladies at the Nyamirambo Women’s Center (NWC) have dedicated themselves to developing their small but important community, and develop it has! At the Umutima (“heart”) Cooperative in central Niyamirambo, launched in 2013, the NWC has trained and employed more than 50 women from the local area to create a large variety of women’s accessories, children’s clothing, and home decor products. In addition to this, the Center has built a community library for its women and children and has offered classes in sewing, English, computing, literacy, and weaving to community members, as well as workshops on women’s rights, health and nutrition, and mental health for the cooperative’s workers.

This means that the NWC has grown into a unique, self-sustaining model where the profits earned through Umutima are used to fund further NWC initiatives, while providing benefits and a fair wage to the seamstresses. In addition to the money they make from sales in their three artisan shops around Kigali, their responsible Community-based Tourism initiative has been a key income-generating activity. Through this, the NWC offers fantastic and unique walking tours in Kigali’s urban environment, as well as traditional cooking and basket-weaving classes. (Call them directly to book your tour or class or just go meet them in Niyamirambo!) All of the income from these activities, combined with donations, means that the Center can support its central business activities without much fuss.

 

Now turning the page, something exciting is happening! Seeing the great success with courses they have offered over the years, the NWC has now imagined a new project! Targeted to begin at the end of this month, they will begin to expand their reach outside of Kigali and straight to the village level.

This new direction started at the end of 2017, when the Peace Institute of Slovenia agreed to sponsor this project for the NWC, called, “Education and economic empowerment of vulnerable groups of women in Rwanda.” Through this venture, the Center will strive to 1) increase literacy and economic independence of vulnerable women in Rwanda’s local environments and 2) to contribute to reducing disparities between women and men.

NWC Project Coordinator Mary Nyamgoma adds, “Literacy allows active participation in the society. People can better arrange formal matters, they can find employment and they can better assist children in schooling and in life.” With this project, “[We] can contribute to reducing gender differences and discrimination against women and girls and we can support local women’s organizations and their engagement. … It raises public awareness and supports local authorities in matters of gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is good for everyone!”

The project was approved this year and will be funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia to run during the years 2018-2020. NWC is now in cooperation with the Rwanda government for the project to be rolled out in late April or early May, collaborating with three districts (five local environments): Nyarugenge (Nyarugenge village) and Gasabo (Gatsata and Jali villages) near Kigali, as well as Kamonyi (Runda village) in the Southern Province. The NWC finalized district-level introductions and moved on to focus at the sector-level in the past weeks to find out how many participants they might have for each course in literacy, sewing and hairdressing.

The results are in and people’s interest at the local level is overwhelming!

Based on the response in the districts and villages, the center recently began accepting applications from teachers for each of the three sectors and they started interviews this week. Out of 35 applicants, the goal will now be to narrow the selection to seven bright stars who will take forward the task of training these ambitious women and girls in the villages chosen. Literacy training will start in all three districts and sewing and hairdressing will additionally start to two of the districts.

As mentioned before, the original goal was to focus on providing capacity development to generate employment opportunities and empower women, as well as girls who have either dropped out of school or were unable to continue school for financial or personal reasons. Training in these three sectors would allow participants to generate income choosing to work in either local cooperatives or out of their homes (low overhead means greater income potential in the beginning). The NWC will continue to focus on women, but requests came in from the villages to also include men in the courses. After feeding this request back to the funders, the NWC has now received approval to allow a small selection of young men in their training courses who have similar enterprising ambitions.

With the program set to commence within a month’s time, the NWC is deep in preparation mode. But it is buzzing with energy and looking forward to growing and expanding its community of bright, motivated and aspiring individuals.

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You can read more about the Niyamirambo Women’s Center here. Or, of course, you can pop by the shop to say hello and check out all the gorgeous things they have in stock! 

 


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