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Farm Radio Weekly

Rwanda: Women survivors drum up ice cream business (by Fulgence Niyonagize, for Farm Radio Weekly)

Chantal Kabatesi survived the Rwandan genocide. But for many years after 1994, she lived isolated in her community in Huye, in the Butare province of southern Rwanda. Now she has re-connected by joining a group of women survivors.

Mrs. Kabatesi explains, “Before, I was a farmer, and then I joined a group of women drummers. Subsequently, the group set up a project to produce and sell ice cream. ”

She joined the association in 2004. The women played drums, sang and danced to help ease their painful memories of the genocide.

Odile Gakire Katese, known as “Kiki,” founded the group. The former university professor brought together victims of the genocide with former torturers. The women opened up to each other, reconciled and united. The group was the first to break the gender taboo against women playing drums, instruments usually reserved for men.

Playing drums broke the woman out of their social isolation. The group increased from 25 members to 100. The association began to consider new activities which could include all members. By chance, Kiki met the founders of Blue Marbles Ice Cream, a small ice cream company based in Brooklyn, U.S.A. Kiki realized that the group could develop an ice cream business in Rwanda.

At the end of 2010, the women launched their fledgling business, calling it Inzozi nziza, or Sweet dreams. Mrs. Kabatesi works in the shop as a waitress. She serves customers soft ice cream flavoured with passion fruit, strawberries and pineapple. If they want, she adds toppings like fresh fruit, honey and homemade granola.

Inzozi nziza is the only company in Rwanda currently producing ice cream from locally-produced dairy products, honey, eggs and fruit. Group members grow and supply the fruit used in the desserts. In addition to ice cream, the women make sandwiches and cook omelettes for their customers.

The customers are not only Rwandans; many foreign tourists have discovered Inzozi nziza. At first, the women could only speak their local language. But some have learned English to better communicate with their foreign customers.

At first, Inzozi nziza was supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, but the company is now self-sufficient.

Kiki says that, despite the ice cream business, drumming continues to be the focus of their leisure time, and continues to provide social connection and development. But, she adds, “The volume of sales to customers encourages us to increase our output. I intend to open shops in other towns.”

Mrs. Kabatesi talks proudly about the many changes in her life. She says, “With the money I earn here, I support my husband by paying our child’s school fees. And my family and I live well in our renovated house.”

Mrs. Kabatesi has used her wages to enrol in a family health insurance scheme. She says, “It’s all good. I don’t know what would have happened to me had I not joined Inzozi nziza.

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