Friday, April 10, 2009

March 2009 trip, part 4

Post created by Cari Clement

April 2
It is SO hard to believe I have to leave this afternoon. I spend part of the morning stuffing my suitcases, then Laura, Patrick and I meet at the hotel to go over the 3-month work plan and budget. And, just as we get done, Jesse Hawkes, the Program Director of our sister program at RAPP, calls Laura to tell us RAPPSIDA has received a four-year grant from the German government! I hope this is a positive omen for the Rwanda Knits USAID grant application. A celebration for Jesse is in order, but we also have to leave for the airport. While there is ample time to catch my flight, postponing heading to the airport just makes leaving all that more difficult. This has been one of the most successful and positive trips to date and it will be so difficult to leave. But we pile in Patrick's car and head to the airport. I just cannot hide how much I hate to leave, but better to get the emotions over with now than drag them out. There will be a next time.....

No need to describe the flight back, which, though long and pretty full, was uneventful. I start to read A Thousand Hills as my mind just cannot leave Rwanda. But I also miss my daughter and her family and my husband, so guess it's just time. Thanks for following this blog and watch for more postings from Laura and Patrick!


Friday, March 27

Cari, Patrick, and Laura were up and out of Kigali early for a morning meeting with Amandin Musilikari and Narcisse Ndagijimana, District Cooperative Officer (DCO) and Vice-Mayor of Gasabo District, respectively.  Rwanda Knits has been partnering with DCOs, the local government officials responsible for overseeing the implementation of Rwanda's cooperative policy on a District level, since May 2008.  These partnerships have been instrumental in moving groups' training and registration processes along.

As Cari, Patrick, and Laura explained Rwanda Knits' current project to facilitate the formation of a cooperative union of knitters in Gasabo District, the Vice-Mayor invoked the prospect of an entirely new level of collaboration: working with the District government to build a local knitting center.  This center, long a part of the project's long-term vision, could facilitate management, training, export, and warehousing activities for all knitting co-ops in Gasabo--and even the country--by providing a central "home" for the cooperative union.  

The meeting concluded with an invitation to join the Joint Action Forum on Development--a body of local NGOs who parter with the District to achieve development goals--and an exciting sense of possibility.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

March 2009 trip, part 3

Post created by Cari Clement.

Wednesday, April 1
Up early again and we three headed to Bugesera where Millennium Villages is located. We had not planned to stay long, but it seems the knitters were waiting, so we jumped in MV’s SUV (no normal car could handle the road down to the center) and we found quite a few of the knitters busy working on school sweaters. They’ve found yarn locally, in various weights and types, and have used 3 different keyplates to get the look they wanted for their sweaters. It was clear some yarn standardization will be important as the lack of a consistent type seems to be quite a challenge. I noticed there was something missing however: row counters. They were shipped with the machines, but no one was using them. Turns out, the teacher’s row counter didn’t work so she didn’t show these women how to use theirs! No wonder it took them so long to knit the scarf order! If they lost count, they would have had to stop and manually count the rows – up to 980! Great for counting practice, but definitely not for speedy knitting! These kinds of things you just can’t know without being there. So I showed Laura and Patrick how to use the counter and they showed the others (thanks to Laura’s fluent French and Patrick’s native Kinyarwanda).

Then back to Kigali to meet up with Susan Moinester and visit the Ineza sewing cooperative that's part of We-ACTx, right across the street from where Laura lives. The sewers create bags, aprons, bathrobes, dolls and other items that Susan sells on her website and to other stores through her company, Manos de Madres ( I bought a couple of items, but with my suitcases jammed with bags and other items to sell at the CGOA booth, it was impossible to buy much more.

This being my last day in Rwanda, sadly being an understatement, Laura, Patrick and I still had so much to go over, so it was back to the hotel to get more work done.

Tuesday, March 31
RAPP staff meeting at 8:00, then a meeting with Rwanda Community Works to discuss the last project for export, the Whitney Port Scarf. RCW is a spin-off of Millennium Villages ( and is dedicated to securing goods for export to the US and Europe. They started with the knitters at MV (80) and included some basket makers. Last year the knitters at MV made 2,000 scarves for Ms. Port’s collection. Patrick, Laura and I discussed machines, yarn, designs, etc. with Amy and Esperance from MV. After showing design ideas and how we ‘d like to be helpful in seeing that all the groups, especially the Cooperative Union, can be a part of these export orders. I ordered a few items to be sold at the CGOA convention booth (they’re a secret for now) and it was off to Mpore Mama for a technical meeting on the machine, new stitch techniques and new design ideas.

Getting to Mpore Mama, we drive through a part of town I haven’t seen for a number of years, and has it changed! The location of government offices, embassies and large NGO buildings. The new American Embassy looks like a fortress! In such a now-peaceful city, it looks so out-of-character, but security is number one for America overseas.

Mpore Mama has such a great center! It’s large, easy to get to, has many windows for good light and can accommodate many of the knitters. Machines are set up on a few tables, so the women have obviously been working. While not everyone is there on time (many have had to walk quite a distance and it’s been raining, which slows everything down), once they arrive we get started. Picot stitch hem, butterfly stitch, two-carriage stripes, easy (in-carriage) intarsia, Fair Isle refresher and, everybody’s favorite, two techniques for knitting in beads. I showed the basics and then Immaculee showed why she’s such a great teacher, picking everything up right away and showing everyone the stitch again, answering questions in Kinyarwanda, something I’d love to be able to do, but probably never will. What’s so wonderful about knitting is that it crosses all language barriers. No need for translation when it’s all visual. It’s why we feel so close despite culture, language and individual economics – it’s all about knitting, design – and making money to support our families.

And welcome to our newest teacher, Faina, from Mpore Mama. Check out her ruched bag design on the right. Faina uses both the Sweater Machine and a standard gauge machine - and has SO many creative ideas, I really need to take a design class from HER!

We give a ride to the reps from Rwanda Women Network where we go next for a meeting with Penina, the director of the Village of Hope, located in the center of an ever-expanding gentrifying neighborhood. When I was there in 2005 and first met Peninah, the Village of Hope was isolated at the top of a hill, surrounded only by fields and farmland. Today, they’re surrounded by very expensive homes, but RWN’s founder, Mary Bilikungeri, is a very well-known, influential Rwandan who will never be forced to move the Village, though who the Village serves, women victims of gender violence and very poor, continue to have to move farther and farther away. All progress has a price for someone – but these new residents can certainly buy sweaters for their kids at school and buy nice knits at the local market.

That evening, Laura and I had have dinner with Megan and her fiancĂ©, Taylor, who leads capacity building for local NGOs for CHAMP (a partner of RAPP), a program of CHF International. Taylor was SO helpful in reviewing Rwanda Knits’ USAID grant application. It was so nice to meet the man responsible for keeping us all up many more nights “fixing” our application! All kidding aside, we were SO lucky to have Taylor’s suggestions to avoid errors in our application.

And we also learned about a wonderful bagel bakery in Kigali that produces bagels that rival those in New York. And just at the end of my trip! Oh well, they’ll be there next time…. But Laura can take advantage of them right away. The owner of the Papyrus restaurant is also involved in making cheese in the Italian style, working with a new dairy cooperative outside Kigali. Fresh mozerella and ricotta! Never would I have imagined it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

March 2009 trip, part 2

Posted by Cari Clement

Monday, March 30
Early meeting at the RAPP office, then head into town to confirm my return flight. Fringe benefit of having to go to town was lunch at Bourbon in the UTC center – and some of the best cappuccino I’ve ever had.

Then it’s back to Remera where Patrick and I have a meeting with Odette and Emerita from the Urumuri cooperative. We are still trying help Urumuri sort out its financial difficulties and these ladies comprise the Supervisory Committee. We want to be sure they know we are there if they need help and we encourage them to make the right decisions as to what to do with their money. It is for the entire cooperative to decide, not us and not just a few from the group, but all the members – or at least a quorum.

Sunday, March 29
Sundays are very slow and quiet in Kigali – that is, unless you attend church – which most Rwandans do. The singing can be heard throughout the city every Sunday morning. And walking around the city is so enjoyable when the traffic is down. Kigali is both a beautiful place to walk – and a challenging one, with all the hills. Who said 1,000 hills? Add three more zeros to that number, please.

While Laura goes to Cercle Sportif, I connect with friend, Susan Moinester, founder of Manos de Madres (, who just happened to come to Rwanda at the same time I did, and we both go to visit Cooperative Solidarite, a basket-weaving co-op comprised of members of Rwanda’s native peoples, the Twa. Their baskets are excellent and I bought a few to sell at the CGOA booth. Susan, who sells their baskets on her website and to stores, is feted as a rock star.

Susan, still on US time, needs sleep, so Laura and I connect for dinner at Chez Lando, across the street from the Beausejour.

Saturday, March 28
On the last Saturday of each month, all of Rwanda virtually shuts down for “umuganda” – community clean-up day. No cars are allowed on the streets and everyone must stay in their neighborhood and clean up. The fact that this actually works is evident in the city, one of the cleanest ones in all East Africa. It lasts until noon, after which time the city slowly comes back to life. But the slow start to the day is most welcome, as there was much paperwork to do. I spent the morning working on ledger sheets, sales recording sheets and a Time Trials sheet so a knitter can test her speed and calculate where improvements should be made – and, most importantly, how much should be charged for labor. Too many of the knitting groups are so anxious for orders that they don’t calculate what it costs them in time to knit and finish a sweater. So the time trials sheet should help.

Around noon Laura took me on my first local bus ride to the local market, Remera’s answer to the local Farmer’s Market, but WAY different. There were literally hundreds of vendors selling everything from flour to fabric and from pans to pineapples. What a wonderful, colorful scene – and what a day to have left the camera at the hotel! Laura picks up things to make for dinner at her house tonite. I can hardly believe I've been to Rwanda 10 times now and never traveled on a local bus or went to the local market. Gives a whole new meaning to "local."

After the Remera market, Laura and I went to downtown Kigali to hunt for fabric for displays at the upcoming Rwanda Knits booth at the August CGOA (Crochet Guild of America) annual convention where my friend, Judi Farer, and I will be selling knitting bags, horn buttons, yarn baskets and other products from Rwanda, all profits to benefit Rwanda Knits.

Dinner at Laura’s was great. Rwanda Knits’ teacher, Immaculee Ilibigiza and her daughter, Pamela (check out her outfit, designed and knitted by her mom), with former Rwanda Knits’ project manager, Geofrey Katushabe (who is now attending grad school), enjoyed a home-cooked meal. While most homes do not have running water, an outdoor spigot makes getting water pretty simple, just outside the back door – but it does make taking showers a bit more challenging…..

Friday, March 27
This was a very “fun” day that coupled review of the week’s workshop with hands-on activities such as learning how to repair a knitting machine to finding design inspirations to converting them into a finished product. But first a review of product pricing from Thursday, as this is a critically important part of the cooperatives becoming successful.

Before the “pause cafĂ©” (morning coffee break), I showed the attendees how to remove broken machine modules to create a new machine bed from two broken ones. I also demonstrated how to keep machines clean and stressed the importance of keeping all the components of each machine together.

After the break, I displayed printouts of ideas for products that could be made on the machines. This got everyone’s wheels turning. Seeing the effectiveness of a tangible example from the workshop on contracts, I felt it would be good to have a tangible example, albeit a more positive one, for today’s quick discussion on design. So on Thursday, I gave Faina, one of the top knitters and a member of Hosiana, a photograph of a shrug with a drawing of a rectangle with stitches and rows and yarn, and asked Faina to knit the rectangle and bring it in today, with the expectation of showing the group how a shrug is made. But today Faina returned, not with the rectangle, but with the finished shrug, complete with crocheted trim! All it takes is inspiration and motivation – and, as you can see, a great model (Caritas, also from the Hosiana cooperative) – to take an idea and a picture through to a finished product. But the best thing was how long it took Faina to make the finished shrug – 2.5 hours – and how much everyone felt it could be sold for in the local market – 7,000 Rwandan francs (about $13) and everyone was delighted, especially since most of the attendees make just over 500 francs a day. Just as an FYI, a whole school uniform sweater sells for between 4,000 and 3,000 francs and takes a lot longer to make. I was also trying to make the point that speed is at least as important as style.

The workshop today ended at 2 p.m. to allow those who traveled long distances, especially the Dian Fossey members who will be retuning to Ruhengheri in the Virunga mountains, to get home before dark. Everyone chose to take home the money we would’ve paid the restaurant for lunch so they would have cash to bring home to their families – and everyone also left with a signed, sealed and stamped diploma from their attendance at the workshop.

After everyone had been given their “lunch money” and transport money back to their home towns, Laura and I departed for the quarterly board meeting at the RAPP offices, just down the street. This was a great meeting, expanding the board by an additional two members, one, my friend Richard Niwenshuti, and the other, new friend, Mattew Nzabonimana. RAPPSIDA Program Director, Jesse Hawkes, and myself, Program Director of Rwanda Knits, agreed to relinquish their PD titles and become Program Chairs, so that all PD’s would be on-the-ground in Rwanda, as it should be, and eventually Rwandans, also as it should be. After a successful meeting and an exhausting day, Laura and I headed to Sole Luna, a wonderful Italian restaurant overlooking Kigali, just down the street from my hotel. (BTW, there is rarely any restaurant in Kigali that doesn’t have a great view, as everything is on a hill – even the valleys have a great view – looking up…)

Monday, April 6, 2009

March 2009 trip, part 1

Posted by Cari Clement

Thursday, March 26
Today was learning how to price your product and the costs that must be taken into consideration when agreeing on a price with a client. This led to break-out sessions where each group was assigned the task of listing the factors that go into pricing a product. Representatives from each of the cooperatives presented their pricing, but none took everything into consideration, so everyone benefitted by something the others forgot to list. And it was quite a lively discussion.

Wednesday, March 25
Day two of the workshop is very interesting. Never did I think I’d see the attendees get as interested in writing contracts than these ladies did! The reason? One of the groups has been having a difficult time repaying the other groups for knitting that was done under contract – but neither had a contract. While repayment is being worked out, the situation created a perfect example of why sales contracts are so important. Without them, it’s just one group’s word against another. So everyone paid close attention and really got involved. There’s nothing like a practical application for learning!

Even with this kind of interest, learning about contracts can be, well, not highly stimulating. So in the afternoons especially, there’s an activity to get everyone moving and awake. And Agnes from Dian Fossey is notoriously always the leader.

Landrada also covered the types of documents required, such as purchase orders, sales receipts which are logged into banking, inventory, accounting and sales ledgers. Even though this information can seem much less interesting than usual discussions of marketing, due to the example provided, it was definitely much more tangible for the attendees than it otherwise would’ve been without the Urumuri example.

Later that afternoon, Laura, Patrick and I met with Felix Rusake at UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women ( UNIFEM co-sponsored the last business skills training and at the meeting, committed to an ongoing partnership with Rwanda Knits.

After the UNIFENM meeting, Laura and I met with Megan O'Connor from Indego Africa ( and with IA's four university interns who do business training follow-up with the two artisan cooperatives IA sources its products from. The young men are being supported by Orphans of Rwanda ( and get a small stipend for their work for IA. Hmmmmm.....this might just work well for Rwanda Knits' follow-up. Something to look into.

Tuesday, March 24
The first day of the Sales and Marketing workshop! Representatives from six of the registered cooperatives meet to learn how to make sales and handle marketing. Much that will be taught over the next four days is still math, though: how to price your product, how to write a sales contract, keeping good sales records, maintaining an inventory record, but with ideas for marketing your goods included too.

Workshop leader, Mme Landrada MUSABYEYEZU, from Centre IWACU, begins day 1 with having the women decide the schedule: when to start, when to break when to wind up for the day. Once this has been decided and others who are coming from a long distance have arrived, they get to work learning the five “P’s” of marketing: Product, Price, People and Place. Think of a chair with four legs, the fifth, the sitter, being “people” – your customer. Once everyone discusses this concept, Landrada has everyone separate into breakout groups, each to discuss the other four legs of the chair, the other four P’s.

But, before the end of the day, Laura, Patrick and I have to leave to attend a meeting with our Executive Committee from our Rwanda-based non-profit, Rwandans Allied for Peace and Progress (RAPP). The meeting goes to at least 6 p.m.

Monday, March 23
After a morning swim (for Laura and friends) and breakfast, it’s back in the car to head to Kigali. Lots to do before the workshop plus a late afternoon meeting with the knitters of Urumuri. I can’t wait to see them! But there have been a few problems, mostly because women with so little are now making money and are finding it challenging to manage it properly – and be sure their pricing allows them to make a profit. But they have been innovative, hiring a knitter and buying a different knitting machine to make the kind of sweaters the schools in their particularly warm district require. But they haven’t calculated well enough how long it will take them to fill a large order and they are fearful of falling short of the deadline. But it’s more important to understand how to manage a business than to dive into it without having the right tools. Yes, they had accounting training, but there’s nothing like practical application to test one’s ability to absorb information.

Sunday, March 22
At 9 a.m., it’s off to Kibuye on a weekend away from the city. Kibuye is quickly becoming a holiday destination for many Rwandans – and tourists. New hotels, beautiful views over Lake Kivu and a good workout climbing the steps down to the water and back up to the rooms. But with the wonderful weather and perfect climate, muscles that were tight in Vermont somehow are much more accommodating here in Rwanda.

An evening meeting about the project. Having this weekend is a great way to get an update.

Saturday, March 21
After boarding the flight to Kigali from Addis Ababa, Rwanda’s growing importance in East Africa is obvious: every seat on the plane is filled.

Finally back in sunny Kigali! Well, sometimes sunny since this is, technically, the rainy season. But just being here feels like sunshine. A long flight, but a welcome arrival, met by RK’s own Laura Hanson and Patrick Nimubona, RK’s new Project Manager. A few hours of catching up, some sleep at a new hotel for me, Beausejour, a quiet, garden setting in the heart of Remera. Very nice and quiet despite the central location.

Friday, March 20
Thanks to my patient – and early-rising husband – I get to the Burlington airport in plenty of time – and United doesn’t charge me for the extra bag. This will be an interesting trip, leaving in the morning, but I’m looking forward to flying on Ethiopian Air that now has a great connection to Rwanda from Addis Ababa.

Thursday, March 19
While it seems as if I started preparing for my next trip to Rwanda ages ago, there’s still last minute packing, trying to fit everything in, yes, 3 suitcases. Sweater Machine parts, mostly, but also everything from tools to show how to replace machine modules to design inspiration printouts have to go too. And the 6 a.m. flight the next day doesn’t help. But I get it all done – at least I hope so.