Monday, October 17, 2011

Ingenzi Knit Union Scarves in Anthropologie!!!

 Check out the rust/pumpkin infinity scarf on the model (and below), made by the members of the Ingenzi Knit Union in Rwanda.  Partners Indego Africa made this happen, providing an income for over 80 members of the Ingenzi Knit Union cooperative union, soon to number 150 with the addition of a fifth and, soon, a sixth primary cooperative.

You can purchase one of these amazingly soft and colorful scarves here.  You can learn more about our partner, Indego Africa, now a partner of the Ingenzi Knit Union, here and here.

The kniters made over 4,500 Sarapo scarves in record time and are continuing to work with Indego Africa to grow their business and help more and more members.

You can also meet members of the Ingenzi Knit Union here.  Their website is still in development, but you can see many of their members.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lawrence Woodmere Academy Supports Rwanda Knits!!

I was so thrilled to receive a "website inquiry" from Alex Dillon, telling me that his students had researched a program they wanted to support.  But let me let Allen explain:

The school is Lawrence Woodmere Academy, in Woodmere, NY, a K-12 independent school. The class raised $165 through a dress-down fundraiser. (Students and faculty paid $5 each to be able to break dress-code on Friday and wear casual clothes.) The students chose your organization by first looking up global, national and locally based charities on the Web, and then having a vote on which organization to have a fundraiser for. They chose Rwanda Knits because of the emphasis on enabling skills and productivity for lasting, sustainable improvement. As part of the fund-raising campaign, they also spoke to a school-wide assembly about the history and current state of politics, society and economy in Rwanda.

Thanks so much!  Perhaps one day you or one of your students will be able to visit that amazing country.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Ingenzi Knit Union Writes their own Grant!

March 13.  Laura Hanson and I arrive in Kigali, met by many friends, all members of the Ingenzi Knit Union.  After two days of catching our breath and getting updates, Monday we visited Mpore Mama.  Here is the Design and Management Teams of the Ingenzi Knit Union outside of cooperative Mpore Mama in Gasabo district, Kigali, the day before they sent representatives to elect a team of five grant writers to begin work on writing their grant to USADF - US Africa Development Fund.  These grants must be written by for-profit busiinesses that include cooperative unions.

Above, Rwanda Knits' Project Manager, Patrick Nimubona, explains to the elected representatives of the three member cooperatives what is required to write a grant.  They then elect, through secret ballot, the five members of the grant-writing team: Eric, Kayitesi, Domitille, Daphrose and Augustin.  These five will meet for the next 5 days and will prepare their draft together with a budget.  This is very hard work and congratulations were well deserved!  But the grant-writing goes on, with translations, advice, buget re-writes, changes - just as it is for any grant application.  And when we told the group that last year there were 100 applications for 7 grants and asked if they still wanted to apply, all hands went up.  Now that's confidence! Here's the grant-writing team hard at work at the RAPP offices:

RAPP?  Rwandans Allied for Peace and Progress, the Rwanda-based NGO that Rwanda Knits is a part of.  RAPP has another program that combat HIV through awareness performance.  RAPP has become a well-known NGO in Rwanda and was able to move to larger quarters.  I was SO pleased to learn that Rwanda Knits has become a self-sustaining "IGA" or income-generating activity program, one that will continue at RAPP for the future of the organization.  Self-sustaining program AND self-sustaining Cooperative Union.  Hey - become unnecessary is a beautiful thing!  Especially when it comes in twos!  Here are a few photos of the RAPP offices in the Remera neighborhood of Kigali.

And here is Amini Kabano, Manager of Administration and Finance, Patrick Nimubona, Rwanda Knits Project Manager, Gedeon Bihonzi, Executive Director.  Many people don't realize this, but a program, especially one so far away, cannot function without a legal entity to run it.  And RAPP is very fortunate to have such a capable staff, however small, to account for every dime received both in grants and in donations. 
It is very easy to see how happy Laura and I are with the work Patrick has been doing.  Patrick has risen in his position to be one of the best project managers ever at RAPP.  He was nervous when Laura left Rwanda to pursue grad school back at home, but he has grown to "own" that position and loves his work.  Patrick is married and has a 16-month old son who is into everything.  Of course!

But back to the knitters...
There's nothing the knitters don't like more than, guess what, knitting.  And designing.  And experimenting with stitches, silhouettes and ideas.  Faina told me that she often wakes in the middle of the night and has to sketch her new idea.  Faina may not be able to read or write, but her numeracy has grown as her knitting skills have.  You have to write down stitches and rows if you're going to be a designer, so Faina has that down!  Here we're inside at Mpore Mama, discussing design inspiration.  I bring over printouts from all over the web to serve as inspiration for new ideas and to build the Ingenzi Design Library.

And here's the design team: Immaculee, myself and Faina.  Sure, I'm involved, but more as an appreciator these days than as a design teacher - they know more these days than I do....

And before closing, here are a couple shots of our "outdoor" offices at the Bonsejour Guest House, just up the street from the RAPP offices and a quick drive to each of the three cooperatives:

And just before we left Rwanda, we thought it would be a good idea if the members of the Ingenzi Knit Union paid a visit to another artisan cooperative, this one a sewing one called Ineza.  They exchanged ideas, loved to know there were others they might collaborate with and pledged to see each other again.  Here's a shot from that very quick "field trip" (just outside RAPP's back door). Note that some of Ineza's product line can be found at

If you're wondering who the two young men are in some of the photos, Rwanda Knits partners with Orphans of Rwanda ( university students to do business training follow-up with each of the three primary cooperatives of Ingenzi Knit Union.  And since Laura and I brought over four laptop computers (we got a GREAT deal on them!), the ORI interns will also be conducting basic computer skills workshops with the knitters so they will be able to use their new website (currently a placeholder is there while a volunteer works on the back end) to show their product line and correspond with potential customers for school uniform sweaters..  Note that is is harder to be accepted into the ORI program than is is to get into Harvard, so Thomas and Sosthene are two amazing young men.

Lastly, I am very happy to let everyone know that finally, scarves made by the Ingenzi Knit Union are available on the Inshuti Collection website:  They are beautifully knitted and photographed, so enjoy!  Here's a photo of Dancille holding one of the scarves she made last year:

And a stack of the finished product.  Akoze keza!  (Kinyarwanda for "great work!")

More soon.....and a surprise!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Profile: Rose Manirarora, Ingenzi Knit Union President

Rose marked her thirtieth birthday this year with a momentous accomplishment: her election as President of the Ingenzi Knit Union.  She has been a member of Mpore Mama Cooperative for years, gaining knitting skills with the support of Rwanda Knits and the Imbuto Foundation, and promises to be “committed to my job and try to work equitably to consider the needs of all members of the union.”  She looks forward to several benefits of Union membership, including the chance “to work together, to gain skills through training, and to get advise from various people.”  She also anticipates meeting challenges ranging from convincing fellow co-op members to be active participants in meetings to finding new markets.  “Rwandan women are standing up,” she says, “but we need more training so that we have enough skills to develop partnerships with people outside Rwanda and look for new markets in the USA.”

Profile: Josiane Niyitegeka, Ingenzi Knit Union Board of Directors

“After being elected as a member of the Board of Directors, I will advise my colleagues on how we can develop the Ingenzi Knit Union,” says twenty-six-year-old Josiane.  Even if her primary cooperative, Mpore Mama, lacks adequate means on its own, “I expect we [Union members] will join forces together in this knitting activity.”  She asks that her supporters “continue to help us so that we can achieve self-sustainability.”

Profile: Godeberthe Mukamasabo, Ingenzi Knit Union Supervisory Committee

“I will do my best to supervise well the entry and exit of our wealth,” says twenty-nine-year-old Godeberthe, who was elected to the Supervisory Committee of the Ingenzi Knit Union.  Although her primary cooperative, Mpore Mama, lacked the capacity to access new markets, she expects that the Union will drastically improve their lot by sheer force of collaboration: “Benefits I expect are being together to share knowledge and discussing together on common issues.”  She asks that supporters “stay beside us” as they continue to work and grow together.

Profile: Caritas Keyitesi, Ingenzi Knit Union Supervisory Committee

Twenty-seven-year-old Caritas serves as both a member of the Ingenzi Knit Union Supervisory Committee and one of the top models for the Rwanda Knits project.  She loves showing off the latest in Rwandan knitwear fashion almost as much as she loves knitting!  With the support of her husband Pascal and two-year-old son, she is excited to move from President of Hosiana Cooperative to this new leadership role in the Union.  “I wish to help establish a fair system of working,” she says.Anticipating challenges that new leaders in the Union may hesitate to take risks or make the decisions necessary, she expects that having more capacity will help the Union to be strong.  “The Union will be the speaker for all the primary cooperatives at the highest level.”