- Posted on 20 September 2008
- by Alexis Priddy
Bpeace Fast Runners Jeanne and Sylvie have a dream: The Beauty School of Rwanda, a first of its kind vocational school bringing a future to the youth of Rwanda.
One of the first businesses to emerge when war ends is the business of beauty. Women return to the feminine community gathering in small salons to reconnect and feel good again. Rwanda has been no exception. Four of Bpeace's Fast Runners run bustling salons. These salons are so busy that supply cannot keep up with demand. Despite high unemployment rates, salon workers are often not Rwandan. Without local training, owners are left to import skilled labor from nearby countries.
We started this process by taking a critical look at their space and begin to explore how the space next to Jeanne's salon can be renovated into the school. It's currently being used as a restaurant, but with a little bit of imagination, we envision a beauty school coming to life.
How many line items in a thatched roof?
Monday morning: Time for feedback and agreement on the school’s financial plan.
Alix has spent months fine-tuning the plan with input from Jeanne and Sylvie. Alix usually brings her finance skills to bear on projects for multinational clients, and found that working with these two was a breeze. With only a few exceptions the plan was on track. We added a few items and increased the amount needed for several others. Just like in the States, everything costs more these days. Unlike the States, the meeting took place at Sylvie’s amusement park. Sylvie, Susan, Alix, Malyse, Jeanne and Barb all sat inside a thatched gazebo by the pool! What a setting to go through every line item on the budget!
Fast cultural understanding
Lunch from Sylvie’s restaurant: In typical Rwandan style, we waited 90 minutes wait for food, and then had about two minutes to eat before we had to leave for our next meeting, at the Ministry of Gender. The food was amazing, and made us wish we had more time. We picked up the Bpeace Program Manager Richard and dashed to the ministry, laughing the whole way--you have to have a sense of humor about the uneasy juxtaposition of Africa's relaxed pace and our packed Bpeace schedule. We taught our driver John-Paul the quintessential American saying: “time is money”. He got it. He drove so fast in response we decided we had to teach him another expression: “Arrive alive!”
Women so get it.
At the ministry (15 minutes early, natch!), we were greeted by four government women, all holding high-ranking positions and a no-nonsense attitude. Eight of us crammed into a small office. Bpeace shared our Rwanda background, and support for the beauty school. Jeanne spoke genuinely about her motives for the school and long–time desire to help orphans. The women from the ministry had a million questions, and couldn’t be more supportive of our work and the school. They explained that the project aligns with each and every goal their ministry and government has for development projects. It was clear that we have a strong project and advocates in the right place. Their support will give us credibility as we move forward in becoming licensed, attaining non-profit status, and in approaching potential local funders. We will be following up with them in the coming weeks on a series of next steps.
Rwandan entrepreneurism is boundless.
Glowing as we walked out of the meeting, none of us wanted to head home. Jeanne suggested we visit the site where she plans to move the restaurant (the one that is currently in the location where the school will be). Her new site is actually a large home that she owns and rents to a family. It has a terraced garden with a sweeping view of Kigali. (See me with Jeanne, above.) She plans to host weddings there and while it needs work, we all agreed it’s a likely moneymaker. We’ve learned that Kigali has an endless supply of weddings!
Just like in the U.S. we ended our day with a little shopping. We stopped at a modern grocery store that sells everything from electronics to toiletries to wine, 24 hours a day. A few years ago this shop could not exist, let alone succeed. But the growing economy is birthing all sorts of new businesses. Next door we got our “latte fix” at a hip cafe called Bourbon Coffee Cafe. The young baristas and laptop-focused clientele were reminiscent of Starbucks, except the coffee was better! This is Africa and the coffee is very LOCAL. Founded by a young Rwandan, one cafe has turned into a small chain.
This is Rwanda. Good things are happening here.
--Bpeacers Barbara Bylenga and Alix Samuelson, September 2008
Piqued your interest? Read the entire September 2008 Rwanda Mission blog here.