Sunday, August 10, 2008

Web of Mutual Assistance

Lots has been happening in Rwanda, but I wanted to be sure Laura's comments from her experiences working with the knitters were posted. And I bet you've never seen yarn being used in this way!

So, starting from the first training day, here's Laura Hanson:

The Nyagatare workshop went far better than I ever could have hoped for. Many of the activities I wasn't sure about went over really well, such as the "web of mutual assistance," using Fanta bottles to illustrate the differences between co-ops, associations, and private enterprises, and creating a mission statement, roughly: The members of Nyagatare Women Co-op use knitting machines to create crafts (sweaters, scarves, skirts, etc.) for the local and export market. They work together from the Nyagatare Women's Center to solve the problems of poverty and coldness.

Participation and attendance were high. The members asked lots of good questions and almost all 26 members attended all four days. The group dynamic was good (lots of dancing and singing led by our "morale directors" Teddy and Betty), and I was impressed by how well organized and eager to learn the members are. Sifa is really on top of her presidential responsibilities and there are several other strong leaders in the group. Our last activity was putting into practice one of the practical skills we discussed: an election of 4 representatives and an alternate to represent the group at the Iwacu workshop. I'm pleased to announce that Sifa, Odette, Molly, Joy, and (alternate) Betty will attend.

The DCO, Bonny, and I bonded. He had lots of other work to do, but came for several hours each day Monday-Wednesday. We traded off teaching certain subjects and collaborated on others, and his participation was a big element of the workshop's success, both in terms of translation and sharing facilitation techniques. We exchanged a lot of ideas and discussed how grateful we each were to the other for putting the cooperative spirit of "mutual assistance" into practice. Unfortunately he was very sick on Thursday so was unable to give his microfinance talk, but I trust him when he says he'll follow up with the group to help them access those resources in Nyagatare. He has a great rapport with the women, who teased him that he should marry me so I would stay in Nyagatare indefinitely…unlikely, but we all got a laugh out of the prospect. If possible, he'll join us for the Iwacu workshop for a day or two, and I think he'll be a great ally in getting the secondary co-op registered.

Logistically, things went smoothly as well. The group set the schedule (I always begin by having them decide by a vote, to illustrate the principle of democracy), so we generally began and ended on time. Members also organized snacks themselves and seemed very happy to receive 500 FR for "living arrangements" rather than lunch. Bonny, Ines, and Geofrey translated, so the only unforeseen budget items were for soda transport, napkins, straws, and bus station-center transport in Nyagatare (5,300 extra)...... We came in $26.41 under the projected budget.

My favorite feature of the week was my stay with Marian, who was exceptionally kind and hospitable. In Geofrey's words, I "lived like a queen" and was spoiled to sample her cooking, see her cows, listen to her stories, and meet her 103-year-old mother. I even taught her some yoga moves!

Marian, Laura's host, in front of her house and some of the cooperative members on their way home from a day of workshop training.

That's it for today from Laura - but she's done two more similar workshops and coordinated the Secondary Cooperative workshop, held by IWACU, a Rwanda-based cooperative training organization.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Knitting Cooperative Training Scheduled!

Thanks to the Rwanda Knits team of Laura, Geofrey and Judi on-the-ground in Rwanda, the planned cooperative training for four of the registered cooperatives will be taking place by mid-August. In Rwanda, registrations filed with the local, district and national offices are required as well as a week's worth of training in cooperative management for each group. The photo shows Geofrey Katushabe, Rwanda Knits' Project Manager, and Judi Farer, board member of Rwanda Knits US.

For anyone interested, here is the schedule of the Primary Cooperative Training workshops:
July 14-17: Nyagatare Women (whose photos are posted below, from the last blog entry)
July 22-25: Urumuri (whose photos are posted here and below)
July 28-30: Diana Fossey (whose photos are also posted on, Meet the Knitters) July 31-August 2: Hosiana
August 5-8: "Union" workshop with Iwacu (Rwandan cooperative training organization) - to train members of the above Primary Cooperatives in joining to become a Secondary (aka "umbrella") Cooperative.

You can see descriptions and photos of the original 17 women's associations who created each of the 29 Primary Cooperatives Rwanda Knits supports at A listing of the individual cooperatives and their locations in Rwanda will be posted very soon.
A big thanks to Judi and Jim Farer for their financial and hands-on support for the above cooperative training workshops. As we speak, they are on their way back to their home in NYC after spending nearly two weeks in Rwanda. Judi has been to Rwanda a number of times and is the organizations biggest cheerleader here in the States. A photo of myself and Judi with some of the Urumuri cooperative members is shown here.

Jim, who is a retired dentist, accompanied Judi this trip to work with the Kigali Institute of Health, bringing his knowledge of dentistry (Jim presently also teaches at NYU) to dental students in Rwanda. I look forward to a very lengthy - and incredibly positive - debriefing from Judi when she returns.
Return tomorrow to learn all about the newest Rwanda Knits cooperative, Milennium Villages and to learn about an exciting scarf-knitting project for export to the US!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rwanda Knits' member cooperatives are made up of women from the same support association, but women with a keen interest in starting their own businesses. Most of these women have known each other for many years, so they are already starting out on a firm footing.

The first 4 primary cooperatives will be ready to begin training as members as a secondary, or umbrella, cooperative in August, as Laura and Geofrey have worked hard and met just the right people to make the training a reality in August. While the women may know each other, training is critical as they will be the ones managing this business - and joining together with women who have a mutual interest in business and knitting, but who may just be acquaintences.

Congratulations, you guys!!

And congratulations too to Judi Farer who, together with her husband, Jim, are now in Rwanda to support their respective interests: Judi with Rwanda Knits (and who hopes to build a well for the Nyagatare women who must walk miles each day to get water before going to work); Jim with his passion for working with dental students at the Kigali Institute of Health. Jim is a retired dentist who specializes in educational workshops for dentists and dental students.

They are in Akagera National Park this weekend. Here are some of the animals they will see.

Monday, June 30, 2008


While, yes, I did have a blog for Rwanda Knits a year+ ago, I have not had been able to devote to it time it deserved - until now. Without the help of volunteer cooperative specialist, Laura Hanson, on-the-ground in Rwanda, the now 29 knitting cooperatives would be where they are today - having filed paperwork to become legally registered for-profit cooperatives.

The women of Rwanda Knits are the real stars, however. They are amazingly resourceful when it comes to growing their businesses - and incredibly patient, having to file and re-file paperwork required by a new Rwandan cooperative law. But they are determined to make knitting their life-long income-producer.

Meet Geofrey Katushabe, Rwanda Knits' Project Manager, shown here with his grandmother and grandfather. Also, Esperance and me going over a knitting technique. Esperance, Urumuri cooperative's "fearless leader," a young woman whose entire family with the exception of one sister, was wiped out during the 1994 genocide. Esperance and the other Rwanda Knits teachers formed their own knitting group in Negasambu, about a half hour outside Kigali.
For more information on Rwanda Knits, go to

I'll see you in a day or two to share more of what's happening with Rwanda Knits!