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!