Bpeace Blog Briefs

Stories of bravery, transformation and impact.

Central America

Pascasie's big building and lots more

We are here sitting at the Serena Hotel with Richard enjoying the renovated establishment and wonderful Buffet on our last day. Fran said "I'm staying/"

This after we spoke to the students of Akilah. A school for young women that are entering the hospitality field. We each told about our journey to entrpreneurship. Richard summarized the whole presentation by telling them to remember the letters SWOT, know your Strength, Weaknesses. Opportunities and Threats. In short create your personal strategic plan now while you are young, and about the many women who own business in Rwanda that we have assisted. Thank goodness the women invited us. We told stories about ourselves that would not have known about each other. All we could do is hug each other when it was all over. WOW!!! Rwanda and what it brings out of people.

On to Pascasie, you can not believe her new building. She has two floors of commercial space that will be rented as offices. We have to find the pictures that Steve took when he conducted training at her former establishment and see where she is now. She said she could have not done it without Bpeace. Jobs everywhere while we were there and more jobs when she is completed.

Then on to Jeanne, she too has converted a portion of her home into rentals.

Ran to the mall where Richard parked in the underground parking lot. "Take paradise and put up a parkin lot"

Yesterday began with a meeting with a consultant firm called Maxinet to see if we have any synergy. They are considered the top consulting firm in Kigali. Training labs that go out into the rural area. They have to be a class act, the contract our Richard for services.

Meeting with Emmanuel was an experience to say the least. His energy is contagious and I walked away with a renewed belief in my own business. Now I wonder who was suppose to be helping who with a forward plan? The man is now selling Cow Insurance, Steve don't ask, all I know is that you will have your hands full, not to mention that it makes sense.

Then off to Bourbon Cafe to Debrief and to Heaven Restaurant for dinner where the secret word must be "Marla" because we got every flavor of home made ice cream that they make on the house

Top Tomato

Roma tomatoes are in high demand in Rwanda and The Serena Hotel is a major consumer of them. Shema Farms, operated by Sara--one of Bpeace's Race to Innovation finalists--is one of the hotel’s biggest suppliers.

The demand for high quality, good tasting tomatoes in growing at a rapid pace and Shema Farms cannot keep up. Donna and I met with Sara and her husband David and they took us to the farm where we actually saw the tomatoes and the greenhouses along with the many other products they produce such as milk, spinach and watermelon.

They also shared with us the location of the additional greenhouses they hope to build with technical assistance from Bpeace. Today we had the best tomatoes I have tasted since I have been in Rwanda…we had a farewell lunch with Richard at the Serena Hotel-yum!

At right is a photo  Sara, her husband Davis and another Bpeace Race to Innovation Finalist, Emmanuel.  How funny were Emmanuel and Sara they bantered back and forth about who should win.  Sara told Emmanuel she should win because it is time for the women to move ahead.  As only Emmanuel could say, I am not responsible for the past, I just got here.

You can vote for them both, as well as the third Rwanda finalist, Herve, at and herlp Bpeace raise the seed capital to help them all expand.

Donna and Fran meet the gorillas

Guhondo is the heaviest gorilla ever weighed (of any type) at 440 lbs and Fran and I spent an hour with him in the jungle today, along with his family We took an early morning ride to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park to trek into the bamboo jungle to see these endangered animals. There were only 7 of us and we hiked across rich farmland with rows of potatoes, wheat, tea, and pyrethrum flowers to reach the jungle. We were accompanied by a guide and a tracker with a rifle, not to protect us from the gorillas, but to protect us from Cape Buffalo who could be tracking us and are very dangerous.

We were hiking at a brisk pace through thick green vegetation and the guide said to hurry because the gorillas were headed into the crater. Suddenly we were hiking down a steep hill into the crater grabbing onto bamboo and then steeply up again when we caught a glimpse of our first gorilla, This group is habituated, meaning they are used to humans, and the tracker makes gorilla noises occasionally to show that we are friendly.

We got lots of photos and video of Guhondo,plus a small baby playing and feeding , a gorilla plucking a piece of fruit and eating it, and several of them bounding up bamboo or climbing into their gorilla nest. Their attitude toward us was like we were the family come to visit and they just went about their normal activities including falling asleep right in front of us or walking toward us. We were only allowed to spend an hour with them so as not to put too much stress on them. At the end of the visit, the clicking of cameras stopped and we were all silent just watching them watching us and marveling at being able to look into their eyes and observing every detail of their behavior.

These gorillas are Rwanda’s most renewable resource, bringing in tourism, and creating employment in the area. In addition, the money paid to see them goes toward a group of armed guards who stay near these gorillas all day to protect them from poaching. One of the female gorillas who came from another group had lost a hand, probably from a snare. We were happy that our dollars would go to preserve these magnificent creatures and help the local economy.

It was a once in a lifetime experience that neither Fran or I will ever forget!

Bountiful futures

What a closing day it was on Friday.  Fran's presentation on personal finance introduced new concepts of salary budgeting, saving, compound interest.  Those Bpeace calculators were working and the women admitted that they never thought about their money in that way.

The bankers from Banque Populaire Du Rwanda showed up in there street banking outfits that they wear when they go into the community, and explained the banking account process and offered to come to the Sweet Dreams Ice Cream shop and open accounts for the employees.  Fran made a donation to the cooperative for those women that needed a deposit to open one.  Having the job with Sweet Dreams will add extra income to the micro businesses that most of them have.

The final ceremony took place at the Credo Hotel across the road from Sweet Dreams. Great Food, wonderful speeches from the women and a wonderful surprise.  They asked us to cover our eyes and when we opened them there were three thank you baskets carved in wood and designed by Sandra the. VP of the Sweet Dreams Ice Cream Cooperative.  It was filled with fruit to represent how bountiful they now felt and that the seeds that we planted in the training will bear fruit equal to what we have in the basket.  Need I say more.

His mother inspired him to be a job creator

Herve is a finalist in the Bpeace Race to Innovation who is going to college here in Butare. I met with this young man for over two hours last night to talk about his vision to create jobs for women. He said he was inspired by his mother who raised he and his three brothers after his father died. His mom had to be the head of the household, and started a tailor business with one sewing machine to raise her family. He feels that if his mother could do that, then street women who now face arrest for illegal selling and an unsteady income can do that too! His dream is to start a food delivery service that will employ street women to provide fresh produce and delivery to working women who now have no time to shop.

Herve said, “The women here have great potential here but there is a gender issue. The women have the power here but they don’t know how to use that.“ He says he learns from women all the time because they have great ideas ( Herve has some pretty great ideas himself).

The meeting was a fun and energetic brainstorming session on all the ways that Herve might advance his business dream. Together we mapped the ideas and actions into Bpeace’s Forward Plan tool.

Herve has a passion for new ideas and entrepreneurship and I have no doubt that he will be a business success at whatever he chooses to do. He said that the experience of being in the Bpeace Race to Innovation has been invaluable, from writing his own business plan to learning to communicate clearly in a professional manner.

Herve’s Bpeace Advocate--Bpeace member Teri Leavens in New York--has been very proactive in connecting him with experts in the U.S. like Fresh Direct and City Harvest to advise him on his next steps. Herve said he feels a true friendship with Teri has developed out of this process.

As a Race to Innovation finalist, Bpeace is asking help raising $10,000 in seed capital for his business.  Please click on the button below to hear Herve make his own pitch and vote for him with as little as $15.

I have to say, at the end of our meeting I felt honored that Herve said he felt comfortable talking to me because I reminded him of his mother.

Ode to the Bpeace Elves

On this last day of training--that we here believe has been one of the most awesome experiences of our lives--many thanks to the Bpeace elves (as Donna calls everyone) who helped to make this happen.

You can never begin to understand the impact this training has had, and how well prepared we were because of Bpeace. I was looking for a specific sheet of paper for my presentation. All I did was email Marla and say "am I suppose to have......" and in two minutes she got in touch with Emily and I had the document. The training video team, that produced the HBO-level customer service short film, the training evaluation (that I printed 20 copies of in English wondering "why wasn't it in Kinyarwandan" only to see that there was another one in Kinyarwandan. I just looked and laughed and said "that damn Marla"). Thanks Marla, Steve, Emily, Liz, Jill, Lauren, Phyllis, Monica, Catherine, Larry and Camera One.

Donna and I were on the University Campus getting a tour from one of the members of the Business club. So we ran into Herve on the campus who has agreed to speak at the club and share what he is learning from the Bpeace Race to Innovation experience. The emphasis is placed on students' creating businesses for themselves and hiring others.

At dinner tonight one of the Business Club members, Aime, who is a remarkable young man, said "I got an email from Bpeace from someone named Tmaloney" (he said it as if it was one word). Donna and I looked at each other wondering who that could be until Donna said "Do you mean Toni Maloney?" He said "yes Tmaloney, I know everything you do in Afghanistan." Then the next one told us "I got something from Tmaloney." So Toni that is your official name here in Rwanda, Tmaloney.

We leave tomorrow for Kigali for some meetings with other Race finalists and other meetings. One is with Akila and we found out tonighr that it's on a farm. I don't know if that is a good thing with the three of us on the loose.

So as the Rwanda Team Leader, I say to those on the Rwanda team and all of the other Elves, "Ya did good and THANK YOU."

Making connections the Bpeace way

Above, Sabra on the right with one of the trainees with her t-shirt from Rwanda's One Million Women March.

From Sabra:
We have been conducting training with this incredible group of potential Sweet Dreams ice cream employees, and they think like experienced businesswomen, not novices. They have already developed marketing strategies, how to get customers, job descriptions. They did the whole plan!

Today was about business finance.  They answered critical questions.  They were at the ready with how much the milk cost, transportation costs, etc.  And when we gave out the Bpeace calculators--it was all over. They were figuring out the profit, the pricing, the cost of the soda, how many sodas they had to sell to break even and how many for a profit. They may not generate a million jobs, but by the time these divas start spreading their new-found knowledge there will be one million jobs somewhere in Rwanda.

Meanwhile Fran who is as wild as I am (two Brooklyn people in Rwanda, not a good thing) went to the bank while I was conducting the business finance training.

From Fran:
Sabra’s presentation was sensational today.  The Rwandan women know so much but, like many women in the US, have very limited access to resources, especially capital and assets and hey, when you are talking about money, what else it is there?  As a result of Sabra’s training and several conversations and observations I decided it was time to introduce them to a bank and the concept and importance of establishing and building a relationship with a banker.  These are smart women-they know how to manage and track money-they simply need resources and access to asset building tools!  So, I asked Kiki to take me to the most friendly community bank in Butare.  We went to Banque Populaire Du Rwanda on Avenue des Forces Amees-where Kiki’s mom once worked.  We actually went three times…because the person we needed to speak to was not there and guess what?  You can’t make an appointment…so back and forth we went.

We finally had the pleasure of meeting Angelique Uwamahoro who is the Customer Care Director.  Kiki and I had planned to pitch the bank for reduced fees and rates for potentially 17 new customers. We went in expecting that the customary fee for maintaining an account was $6 per month which is what the commercial banks charge in Rwanda.  So I was planning on negotiating a deal for our women.  I am not a believer but I might just become one after this trip because I tell you something mystical is happening here.  How is it that we picked the one bank in Rwanda that DOES NOT CHARGE FEES?  And where you can open a new account with only 3200RWF (about $5.56US)?  The only fee they have is for direct deposit which is 500 RWF per month or $1US.

I was so excited I could not contain myself in the bank!  Angelique was pretty excited too.  Bringing new business to the bank is her job, but she was especially excited to learn about Bpeace and to play a role in helping these women on the road to financial security.  When I asked her to come in and speak to the women face to face on Friday and explain banking basics to them she was thrilled.  She will discuss with them how direct deposit works, how they will earn interest on their money, and the different types of savings accounts they offer.  Kiki and I walked back to the classroom beaming at our accomplishment. This is a very new resource for these women.  An added bonus is introducing them to Angelique, a successful role model from the banking community who will, of course become a customer at the Sweet Dreams ice cream store and hopefully a long term financial partner for the women.  I am so looking forward to Friday’s guest speaker on personal finance.  Divine intervention I tell you--my Brooklyn girlfriend may make a believer out of me.

From Sabra:
The owner of the restaurant where we have lunch everyday has excellent marketing tools and customer service. How he started the business is remarkable. I asked him if he would speak at the business club that the Race for Innovation students started. He was so excited, so the club is going to meet with him tomorrow.

When we leave, I know there will be more Bpeace chatter. This what I want every Bpeace member, friend and donor to know, that a collaboration like this can impact an entire town!

Laughing loudly in Butare

What we never really expected was that every single woman in our training here in Butare would bring so much joy to our training time together. They played so full out that things got a little crazy this afternoon during the customer service trail exercise.

After lunch, Donna  explained the 5 points of interaction that take place in a transaction and some of the situations that might come up in their customer service.  A table was set up as the ice cream store counter and one of the women wrote a sign that said in Kinyarwanda, “Sweet Dreams, the Women’s Dream”  that served as the store sign.. Fran had brought some little napkins with ice cream cones that ended up portraying the servings of ice cream.

Donna explained that we would pretend like this was the real Sweet Dreams store and one woman would serve as the server and 3 women would be the customers. It started out according to plan and because these women just all wanted to be involved, before we knew it the line was getting longer. So Donna suggested the pretend server get a co-worker to help with the line so there would be two lines. Then the women switched between  being server and  customer.

They got so engaged in the play acting, before we knew it, pretend customers turned up--like a mother with a difficult child, a woman who wanted a place to sit,, a women who dropped her ice cream on the floor, a woman who only spoke Chinese, a thief, a women who put a pillow under her blouse like she was pregnant and delivering right in the store (the other women actually carried her out of the building by her arms and legs because they said if a woman delivers in the ice cream store, you need to take care of her).

I think all of Butare must have heard the gales of laughter.  The women women offered important insights--everything from creating an assembly line, making sure everything was stocked for busy times, having the customers pay before they get the ice cream, treating all customers like they are human, knowing the product, paying attention to everyone in the store, and we could go on and on. These Sweet Dreams team will be well prepared employees that would make any business proud. Sabra’s up tomorrow with her training in business accounting.


We heard about the disturbance in Kigali, but the world did not hear about a MILLION WOMEN MARCHING FOR GENDER EQUALITY. What a site to see on the television. Women from all over Africa showed up in Rwanda, and had a simultaneous march in strategic cities throughout the country all in the same t-shirt.

Talk about strategic. Some of the women from Sweet Dreams ice cream attended before they came to our meeting, and they had their t-shirts. It was a site to behold. Just to think that Bpeace was here at the same time empowering women by training them on how to operate a business; then to observe the womens' drumming group (women are not supposed to play drums) affiliated with Sweet Dreams, play their heart out, left the three of us exhausted emotionally. Now how's that for a grenade, and we're doing it for peace.

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