Women in Rwanda Don't Want Care Packages

Women in Rwanda do not want care packages. They do not want handouts.

A Rwandan woman, like you, wants to be empowered. She wants to earn an income that adequately supports her family. She wants to have the knowledge to make informed decisions about her body. She dreams of becoming highly educated, innovating and making a difference, and when she gets there she does not want to be alone. She wants to work with other empowered women to make changes in her community and quite possibly the world.

And it all begins with literacy.

Last month, my husband Anthony and I returned from Rwanda where we explored possibilities for developing a nonprofit organization. How we ended up in Rwanda was truly a series of twists and turns all led by serendipity, fate and an invitation from our good friends at Kula Project.

For the past three years, we've put practically all our time and effort into running The Culture-ist. The e-mag enriched our lives in so many ways, but the most impactful effect was the relationships we built and the connections we made with readers, writers, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and anyone we encountered along the way. We felt blessed to have been given such incredible opportunities and we knew it was time to give back beyond the storytelling. We wanted to get our hands around a project -- something we could feel and see and truly partake in.

While in Rwanda, we met with several NGO leaders involved in bettering the country's economic development. Many welcomed us to visit and explore their current projects. We were impressed with each of the programs and the impact each was making in their respective communities, but one organization in particular spoke directly to our hearts.

"We will work together." Taking my hands in hers Peace smiled at me.

Peace Ruzage is the Founder of Aspire, an organization that equips Rwandan women with literacy and vocational skills, and training in sustainable agriculture methods that provide food security and economic opportunities to raise themselves and their families out of poverty.

Before Aspire was officially an organization, Peace, who had spent several years as a refugee in Kenya, began offering her home as a safe space to poor women who suffered from PTSD after the genocide. Many were jobless widows and single mothers who lacked the skills and the education to provide for themselves and their families.  Being poor herself, it was all Peace could do to help other women in her community. Over time, her veranda became a refuge for more than 300 women who found comfort in the communal support. Peace taught them to make beads from waste paper and her mother began helping the women to read and write.

When Peace crossed paths with NGO worker Sophie McCann from the UK charity, Network for Africa the pair joined forces to develop a project that would support women in the neighborhood. They founded Aspire Rwanda and its doors opened in 2009. Throughout the last five years, 450 women have engaged in vocational training and rights awareness.

Aspire chooses hard-working, resilient women to enroll in a 12-month training program at its urban or rural center and provides complimentary counseling, nutrition and family planning services, and childcare for preschool-aged children. Many Rwandan women who are attempting to raise children and earn money have few options for childcare other than leaving young children home alone or withdrawing an older sibling from school to care for them. The Aspire childcare center offers a safe and educational environment for the mothers to leave their children which allows them to concentrate on the programs. Children are provided with two nutritional meals a day and follow a preschool curriculum.

The women are able to learn uninterrupted with their young ones taken care of. They develop literacy and numeracy skills, learn about health and nutrition, managing money and women's rights. After graduation the women join a cooperative where they work and support themselves, contributing to a self-sustaining and peaceful community.

Anthony and I visited both of Aspire's centers and immediately felt compelled to help. We were in awe of the incredible programs the organization has established and how it is positively impacting the lives of women and their families.

We returned home and developed Humanity Unified, a for-profit enterprise that will work with Humanity Unified International, a nonprofit (in progress) to raise funds for Aspire and other local organizations running impactful programs that empower vulnerable women and children. Humanity Unified will work with Aspire in developing new innovative solutions to enhance the organization's current agriculture programs and to support the early childhood education centers.

We would love for you to come along with us on this journey and invite friends and family to join in helping to equip women and children with the education and skills necessary, so they may never have to live another day hungry and impoverished.

Love & light,

Maria & Anthony