Bpeace Blog Briefs

Stories of bravery, transformation and impact.

Sabra rocks the house in Butare

It was smiling faces and waving hands as soon as the Bpeace team walked into the reception at Petit Prince Hotel with the women we will be training to work at the Sweet Dreams ice cream store. We were moved and inspired by their openness and curiosity. Sabra took center stage and energized the group with her personality and sense of humor. The room was filled with excitement and energy and joy!

I was moved by these women and their hugs and introductions. We had some Fantas and some snacks and several of them invited us to their homes. Amazing day!

In Butare, an unexpected positive outcome from the Race for Innovation

Sabra was stunned and so was BpeaceHQ when she told us.

Seven of the 200 applicants for the Bpeace Race for Innovation did not get discouraged when they were not selected as finalists.  Only a few hours after arriving in Butare, Sabra learned that they were so excited about the challenge for them to "think out of the box" that they started a Business Club and now have 20 members.

Butare is a college town and the ORI Business Club (a new division of the Orphans of Rwanda Inc.) uses the 81 questions from the Bpeace Race application to encourage themselves and fellow college students through out Rwanda. They have invited guest speakers from the business community to conduct presentations.

Four of the club members are interns at the Sweet Dreams shop, helping to set-up the business and teach English to the future employees of the show.  Above, the interns pose with Sabra, Fran and Donna.

The President of the club wants to focus on helping create viable business plans that reflect what the entrepreneur REALLY wants to do. It seems at the Entrepreneur Centers they are provided with standard plan templates that are not geared to the passions of the entrepreneur. Instead, the club wants to take the Bpeace RACE format and encourage business owners to be innovative.

Sabra:  "I want to meet the business people that have spoken at their events and see if they are members of the Rotary Club and how they can support Bpeace in encouraging this energy.  How do we turn that into jobs.  Everybody here knows Bpeace."

Kigali: Today we cried for the loss

How can you wrap your head around the lack  of and the loss of humanity in a genocide that took up to a million lives in three months? It’s very hard for us to imagine that this lovely country was the site of one of the worst killing fields in our lifetime. And yet, present day Rwanda doesn’t seem to even resemble that Rwanda of 1994. We had quite a contrasting day when Richard Niswenshuti, our Kigali Program Manager showed us the progressive city of Kigali and took us to the the Nyanamata Genocide memorial

As we drove through the streets of Kigali we saw all the evidence of a growing economy.   New construction, clean, well maintained streets, flourishing businesses ( including driving by the hair salon of our Bpeace Fast Runner Jeanne  and seeing  it  full of fashionable ladies getting their hair done). This country is ripe as a banana for growth and we are excited to be part of  the opening of the first ice cream shop in Rwanda.  Sunday we leave for Butare for our first meeting with the ladies we will be training.

So today we honored the past and the present Rwanda. The church at Nyanamata was a graphic example of a massacre and a mass grave. A banner in the front reads “If you knew me, and if you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.” The church is left, much as it was that day with pews full of  clothes of the 10,000 who were killed here including women and children. Skulls and bones line shelves  in an underground mass grave. It is so very real and so very raw.

Part of the cause of the genocide was  poverty, unemployment and idleness. It truly brings to mind why we are here, because Bpeace believes more jobs mean less violence.

Laughter is the best Afghan medicine

Bpeace helps its Fast Runners form local peer networks that typically meet monthly.  But every November, the meeting turns into something more—a reunion of present and past Fast Runners and a celebration of their friendship and relationship with Bpeace.

This year’s Afghan Fast Runner Annual Meeting was held at the Afghan Women’s Business Federation (AWBF) in Kabul. The room was filled with cakes and cookies and smiles. After rounds of games, like the ever-popular Telephone, the women expressed how much it meant to be able to laugh with daily struggles of life in Kabul offering little opportunity for laughter.

The Fast Runners updated each other on their latest business news. Laila is working with a government entity. BN’s husband is taking care of her store while she works with AWBF. She also regularly travels to Jalalabad to get her orders processed. Nasima is busy selling her silk scarves and working with Zarif at Zardozi. Rahima, Suraia, and Hanifa all continue to work with the Rangeen Kaman Artisans retail store.

Rahima has also nominated herself, again, to be the Kabul Representative to Parliament. Suraia is still working at the governmental construction site, and Hanifa is busy with her school and her Quran recitation engagements. Habiba’s pre-school is still up and running in the building Bpeace donors helped build.

Tears of laughter became tears of gratitude when Soraya read them an email from Bpeace CEO Toni Maloney, written on behalf of Bpeace members. Toni expressed regret that the security situation has prevented more frequent visits.   She gave them Bpeace updates as well, and how we are acting on their advice to invite Afghan men into the Bpeace program—many of the new Fast Runners we are recruiting are from Mazar and Balkh Province.  Toni also told of a forthcoming meeting with Bpeace Board members and the U.S. State Department, at which “we will proudly tell them of your bravery and your progress.”

The women answered Toni’s message of commitment, encouragement, and respect with a message of their own. In their words, “We will never forget how much Bpeace encouraged us to become who we are today and we will continue fighting for better lives.  We are ready to be available for Bpeace anytime needed.  We love you all, and we want to see you again.”

A good deed done in Afghanistan

Since its inception, Fatima’s furniture manufacturing company has been operating out of a tent; making the materials and tools and the 77 women carpenters susceptible to the elements.

But now Fatima holds the deed to her own plot of land. Combining her own money with donations from Bpeace host companies Duc Duc and Bernhardt Furniture, importer Wendy Summer, and 33 friends and family of architect Lisa Dubin, Fatima raised the final $5,500 needed to purchase land on which to construct her factory.

Stones, bricks and mortar are the next step.  Fatima met with Allen Rahim, the brother-in-law of Bpeace member Khatera Sahibzada. Allen owns a construction materials company in Kabul, similar to Home Depot, and has already started helping Fatima move forward. In addition to sound technical advice, he took the dimensions and layouts of the structure to solicit estimates from two different construction companies. He also pledged to donate any materials needed for the structure’s kitchen and bathrooms.

Fatima did take a few moments to reflect on generosity and hard work that made this all possible. She wrote to her sponsors, “Someday I hope you come to Afghanistan so I can show you how much your contribution is making a difference in the lives of so many people."

New Englanders pull out the foodie stops for Afghans

ll bean

Bpeace Fast Runners Mariam, Guljan, Zainul and Habiba are food processors (dried fruits and nuts; tomato paste; honey; and mint water and dried herbs and essences, respectively). During the Bpeace Apprentice Road Trip (BART), they're spending two weeks in Maine. Why Maine? This state harbors a lot of entrepreneurial natural and organic food companies with an inspirational size footprint inspirational for our Associates.

Our BART foodies had a whirlwind trip, with tangible and actionable lessons learned:

  • Lean Manufacturing: They particularly responded to the idea of developing documents detailing standard operating procedures that they could provide to their employees and suppliers in order to improve the quality and efficiency of production.
  • Private Label Production: The recurring theme of doing private label production for other companies resonated. Mariam, Guljan, Habiba and Zainul learned the potential benefits and drawbacks of this arrangement. If they decide to pursue opportunities with other sellers back home, they now also know the implications of pricing/costing, and what constitutes appropriate contractual agreements for these types of arrangements.

Wilbur chocolates

  • Product differentiation: A visit to Wilbur's Chocolates (above) and Simply Divine Brownies included a product review, and a tour of each company's (joined) retail stores. The emphasis was on using packaging and specialty products to achieve product differentiation--capturing new markets through holiday and seasonal themes, and "Maine native" products. Owner Catherine Carty-Wilbur provided a tour of the production facilities, going over the principles of sanitation, quality control, production organization, and packaging.

But in addition to the valuable direct education, came the Bpeace Aha! moments. As often happens, these were as a result of unscripted, human interactions we couldn't have predicted.

Starting small can yield big results: During the Q&A session at Wilbur's Chocolates (over fresh Maine cider and chocolates), our Afghan entrepreneurs asked how Catherine grew her business. They heard how she and her husband started their business by cooking up chocolates on their stove, and setting up a packaging system in their basement. They've achieved their current level of sales/production over 25 years. They've grown slowly on purpose--taking on loans only when they have all of their other debts paid off.


Hands-on can get neurons firing: At Swan's Honey, Karen and Lincoln Sennett were extremely warm and hospitable. The technical information about processing and production was most immediately helpful to beekeper Zainul (with the Sennetts in her gift from Swan's, above). But some of the other market opportunities for products and byproducts were of interest to everyone, especially the demonstration of how to make both soap and balm using honey and beeswax. Bpeace Fast Runners even tried their hands at rolling their own beeswax candles. It seems this got them thinking: not only did Zainul hatch interesting ideas for product expansion (i.e., selling her wax, which she is not now doing), but the foodies got collaborative—Zainul and Mariam talked about teaming up to produce a honey nut spread, and Habiba wants to explore incorporating her essential mint oil with Zainul's beeswax to make specialty balms and soaps.

Almond butter

Apply elbow grease, create new product: On Friday, we loaded the entrepreneurs into a van for the two-plus hour drive from Freeport, Maine to Boston for the Natural and Organic Food Show at the Convention Center. Wow. Sensory overload. Everyone snacked their way through the booths, dazzled by the packaging and innovation. But it was something that Americans take for granted that made Mariam’s eyes pop out when she tasted it—nut butter. Afghanistan is known for the quality of their almonds, and when Mariam (with me above) tasted a raw almond nut butter, she was immediately smitten and grilled the exhibitor on how to make it. We’ll have to round up a food processing machine to show her just how easy it is.

Bar Harbor foods

Family businesses are strong businesses: The last stop at the Food Show was the booth of Liberty Richter, the distributor for Bar Harbor Foods. CEO Mike Cote is my dad. And the VP of marketing and Quality Insurance is Bpeacer Cynthia Fisher who provided the vision behind this Maine portion of the apprenticeships for the Food Processing Fast Runners. The number and quality of strong family bonds seen in the Maine food businesses hit home for our Associates—most Afghan entrepreneurs we meet work side-by-side with husbands, sisters, and cousins. Above, our grateful Barties and their hosts, left to right: Guljan, Zainul, Cynthia, Mariam, Mike, Michelle and Habiba.

--Bpeacer Michelle Cote, October 2008

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