So, what do you know about Rwanda?
Movies focus on the tragic genocide, and mainstream media often forgets that Africa isn’t one big country… But, if you dig a little, you’ll find much to love and respect about the beautiful mountainous land that is Rwanda.
The truth is, Rwanda is advancing faster than many of her neighbors in the “developed” world, and women are spearheading the movement.
According to Jamaican-Rwandan Makeda Mahadeo, an emcee and deejay who grew up in the Caribbean and now calls Rwanda home, not only is the country’s leadership forward-thinking, but so too are the people.
The prevalence of a growth-oriented, socially conscious mindset is exemplified through these handful of small businesses and organizations that Makeda urges the world to support.
Here are the five female-led entities she recommends checking out.
Dokmai Rwanda produces fair trade, leather bags and accessories, handmade in Rwandan.
Bernadette Umunyana, the owner of the brand, is a fashion veteran. She has traveled across both the African and Asian continents picking up techniques as varied as batik (similar to tie and die) in Burkina Faso, to manufacturing and dying silk in Laos.
When she returned to Rwanda, she approached the industry with purpose. Using a survey, she narrowed down how Dokmai could best highlight local artisans and craftspeople.
The result was part of the inspiration of Dokmai Rwanda’s signature ‘Made in Rwanda’ style, which combines leather with Kitenge – the colorful African fabric that is often used for clothing.
Dokmai Rwanda also focuses on training the younger generation of the workforce who often struggle to find stable employment and earn a decent wage. Workers are encouraged to come up with their own designs and innovations, and see their creations worn by thousands. This helps foster creativity throughout society.
Uzuri K&Y is a shoe brand founded in 2013 by Ysolde Shimwe and Kevine Kagirimpundu, both designers and graduates of the University of Rwanda who studied creative design. The two hit it off immediately. “When I met my business partner, we automatically connected since we both shared the same dream of being creators," Ysolde shared in a Kaminuza Star article. That dream evolved specifically to creating sustainable products and promoting employment for women and the young, and to help establish brand Rwanda.
Uzuri takes recyclable materials and turns them into fashionable footwear, with an emphasis on reusing rubber tires and local materials. The footwear is colorful and unique, often incorporating traditional Rwandan designs such as the Agaseke.
If you don’t know what Agaseke is, look it up. They’re traditional, intricately woven baskets that are a distinct part of Rwandan cultural heritage.
Named after the legendary artist Annonciata Mutamuriza (aka Kamaliza), Kamaliza Reads is the first library in Rwanda where all the material is authored by black women.
This one-of-a-kind library is laser focused on promoting black women, and stories for and by all black women, whether cis, trans, queer, non-binary and gender non-conforming.
The library is one of the many initiatives created by the Sistah Circle Collective, which was founded by Amata Giramata, a famous blogger, activist and feminist, who is still in her in twenties.
Amata describes Sistah Circle Collective as a “black feminist and womanist grassroots community dedicated to black women’s lives and narratives, told through radical love and storytelling.”
The goal for Sistah Circle Collective is to establish Kamiliza Reads as a veritable source of knowledge for students and women across Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, and eventually the entire country.
Their work extends beyond just a physical location. Sistah Circle Collective promotes various funds and charities across Africa, provides a decentralized online repository for revolutionary text, of course, written by black women, and urges you if able, to donate to the library through purchases from their literary wishlist.
Solid Africa is a non-profit created to fill in the cracks in Rwanda’s national health care, ensuring no one falls through. Founded by Isabelle Kamariza, Solid Africa has a variety of programs to assist low-income patients in Kigali.
The Gemura Program provides food for vulnerable patients in public hospitals. They feed over 400 patients from Monday to Friday.
The Gombora Program assists in paying off outstanding hospital fees and negotiating subsidies for outpatient appointments — including travel fees to and from hospitals.
The Sukura Program is their clean water project, which was launched in 2014. Working with the First Lady of Rwanda’s Imbuto Foundation, Solid Africa was able to install clean water supplies at several hospitals across Rwanda.
Solid Africa gives truth to Rwanda’s health care promise of “mutuelle pour tous” or roughly translated to “healthcare for all.”
Imagine We is a young, creative community focused on empowering children by promoting reading and learning. They do this through donating books, training authors and language teachers, and publishing their own books in sometimes up to five different languages.
Dominique Uwase Alonga and her team at Imagine We believe that books have power, and when African children see themselves in books, doing amazing things, it opens their eyes. “The more books portray them as powerful and beautiful, the more they can achieve greater things,” is a mantra emblazoned in all Imagine We’s work.
As for the books, fantastic and colorful art is featured with no set style — surreal, impressionistic, cartoony, you name it. While the emphasis is on children, don’t think the books are just fairytales and talking animals. Some tackle heavy subject matter, from the struggles of everyday life, to memoirs from the genocide.