The eye-opening backstory behind the women of Abasangiye, and the collaboration between Indego Africa, Foundation Rwanda, and Survivors Fund that brought them together, was previously chronicled in a prior post entitled “The Resilient Women of Abasangiye.”
It is 8:00 a.m. at Abasangiye, an early-stage textile cooperative located in the Kayonza District of Rwanda, and all 25 members are seated in a converted workspace laughing, exchanging stories, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of their Kinyarwanda literacy instructor Jean Marie Vianney Kwitonda. For the next two hours these 25 women will learn the basics of a language that they have spoken their entire lives, but that over 60% had never learned to read or write.
The atmosphere in the classroom is focused and upbeat as Jean Marie transcribes the word “yamuragi- ye” across the chalkboard and each woman practices deciphering the word and saying what she believes it to be aloud. Only months ago this scene was unimaginable. Most members had to begin by learning the Kinyarwanda alphabet. Prior to undertaking their first literacy lesson in 2010, three members of Abasangiye professed embarrassment to Indego Africa staff that they “didn’t even know how to hold a pen.”
Literacy is only one of several disciplines in which the women of Abasangiye are proving to be quick studies; their broad-based training regimen also spans business management, entrepreneurship, and advanced sewing. Once the morning training ends, each member returns to work on a purchase order recently placed by Indego Africa for market tote bags and textile ball ornaments. Guided by the deft and practiced hands of Jacqueline Muteri and Gloriose Umatesi, seamstresses at another Indego Africa partner cooperative Cocoki, the production quality and capacity of the members’ sewing is sharply on the rise.
While sewing machines continue to hum, Eugene Nteziyaremye is in transit to Kayonza where at 2:00 p.m. he will launch into his semiweekly lessons in English and then advanced Kinyarwanda. When Eugene arrives at Abasangiye, the women delight in walking him through a highlight reel of their early morning coursework before proudly thrusting new prototypes they have sewn into his hands. Noting their pride and dedication, Eugene reported that “Every woman wanted to be the first to write a correct sentence. The class was very motivated.”
With nearly perfect attendance in their training programs, Abasangiye continues to exemplify what is possible when great passion meets great opportunity. Joined in their economic, physical, familial, and emotional struggles, each member is coming to terms with her past and creating a brighter future for herself and her family.
And while passing a day in Kayonza undoubtedly speaks volumes about the commitment of these 25 women, it also serves up a powerful reminder of the far-reaching impact that access to education can have in the lives of so many women around the globe.
-Conor French and Kristen Waeber
(Photos: at top, Odette benefits from some hands-on instruction from Gloriose and, at bottom, members of Abasangiye crowd around Eugenie as she fills out an Indego Africa purchase order)