Back in the early days of being at site, Mama Claudine, one of the warmest women in my village, approached me with a project proposal. She is the leader of an association of seamstresses called Twitezimbere, We Develop Ourselves. The roughly twenty members work together to pool money and grow their business. The women work out of their homes or little shops near the market, but because of a lack of equipment, they often have to share machines with each other.
Mama Claudine befriended the previous PCV Alanna, so she is familiar with us Volunteers and our work in Rwanda. Therefore she asked me if I would help her find money for a project to buy three new sewing machines. These electric sewing machines make the work much faster, and they are able to sew the elaborate embroidery that many Rwandan women request on their fancy church clothes.
New machines would greatly help Twitezimbere, especially during periods of high customer demand. Before Christmas and at the beginning of the Rwandan school year in January, the women are flooded with dress and uniform orders. Mama Claudine was concerned they wouldn’t have enough machines to handle the workload.
It is important for them to earn as much money as possible during these times so that they can save money and use it throughout the year. The women’s families rely on them as a source of income; most of the members have many children and sometimes adopted orphans to provide for. Considering that in this district 51.8% of the population is considered poor or extremely poor and the average Rwandan lives on just $1.50 a day, their earnings are critical to their families’ survival.
Sewing is a stable, respected profession in Rwanda. The majority of the members of Twitezimbere only finished primary school, and one woman is completely illiterate. The ability to perform their craft is very important to them, and they take pride in their work. When Mama Claudine asked me for help in order to grow their trade, I knew I wanted to help them.
Around the same time that Mama Claudine approached me, I was also invited to visit a different sewing association, Intambwe, in another neighboring village. This association is much smaller with only six members, working out of a small shop next to the sector office. The association’s president Etienne explained the many ideas they have for growing in the future. Like Twitezimbere, Intambwe sews mostly dresses and school uniforms, but at that meeting Etienne explained his idea for a new venture.
In Rwanda school uniforms often have the school emblem printed on the breast pocket. Currently the emblems are only printed in large cities like Kigali or Musanze and are of poor quality. Intambwe’s idea, as Etienne explained, was to buy the materials to screen print the emblems for uniforms. Screen printing is not difficult to do, and the quality is better than the current method. This technology would be the first of its kind in this district and would diversify their products to increase customer demand.
Inspired by their enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit, I decided I wanted to work with this association as well. Thus began weeks of collecting information, estimating prices, and writing a contract between the two associations. The leaders of both associations worked with me to write a grant that could support both their needs. As much as possible, I tried to delegate the work to the members so that they would learn to thoroughly plan their business and discover what is required to write a grant.
Peace Corps has several different grant options for different types of projects, but we decided to write a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) Grant. As with any Peace Corps grant, the community is required to raise 25% of the total costs. This ensures that the community is actively involved in securing the grant and makes sure that the community has a stake in the results. Peace Corps doesn’t want grant money to be seen as a free hand-out, so contributing to the cause develops a greater sense of community ownership. For this grant, most of the community contribution is in the form of in-kind donations. The members don’t have the cash to contribute directly, but they are instead donating some of the furniture or equipment that they can make themselves.
The other 75% of the PCPP grant is provided by donations from people back in the States. Over the years, Peace Corps realized that volunteers’ families and friends wanted to contribute in some way to their service. This grant was created as a way for people at home to support both the volunteers and their work in the field. That’s why I am asking you to please help us with this project!
On the Peace Corps website, all of the current PCPP grants are listed along with a brief project description and a place to donate to the project with a credit card. When all the funds are raised, Peace Corps will transfer the money to me so that I can supervise and record all of the purchases made for the project. Here’s the link to the information about my project: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-696-007
We would really like to receive the needed funds by November. As explained, December is busy with clothes orders for Christmas and uniform orders for the new school year. Twitezimbere needs the new sewing machines to handle the increased work, and Intambwe needs the materials to print logos to put on the uniforms.
The beneficiaries of this project are near and dear to my heart. Mama Claudine is one of the kindest people I know in Rwanda. She was the previous volunteer’s best friend and gave her sewing lessons a few times a week. When I arrived at site, she also took me under her wing. She is so patient with me, taking the time to speak slowly and simply so that I can understand her Kinyarwanda.
Mama Claudine’s oldest daughter Claudine finished secondary school last year, but missed the cut-off to study in university by only one point. Since graduation, she has been studying with her mother to become a seamstress herself. Like Mama Claudine, she has a giant heart and teaches me Kinyarwanda twice a week. In July she gave birth to a smiley baby boy named Kevin. They are also raising two sons and an adopted orphan.
Whenever I have a question about the culture or have some problem, I know I can count on Mama Claudine and her family. For my birthday, Mama Claudine gave me eight bunches of my favorite kind of bananas. It was such a sweet gesture!
The members of Intambwe are just as welcoming and kind as Mama Claudine and Twitezimbere. Recently I visited Etienne at home where he and his wife, also a member, presented me with a knitted poncho as a gift to thank me for helping them. Etienne and I work together on a number of projects; for example he is one of the dependable librarians at the community library. He is very intelligent and determined to improve his community. I greatly admire his creativity and motivation.
So please, whatever small contribution you can give will be greatly appreciated! Buhoro buhoro, little by little, I know that together we can raise the money to make a difference in the lives of these hardworking people.