Promoting Women as Entrepreneurs and Stewards of the Environment
I am a Veterinarian/Attorney managing our NGO in Rwanda which is called RwandaNOW-Nurturing Our World. I came to Rwanda in 2001 as the Field Veterinarian for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. Out of that work emerged the first iteration of our NGO, RwandaSEC – the Rwanda Wildlife Sanctuary and Science Education Center. Our original mission was to create a site where confiscated wildlife could reside and recuperate while, at the same time, provide an environment for Rwandese to experience wildlife in a positive way. It became clear, early on, that our mission needed to be broadened to address Rwanda’s true need. Our expanded mission is to create environmental and conservation awareness and advocacy within Rwanda in order that our tiny country can re-build our denuded land. We recognize that every Rwandese makes decisions every day that affect our environment and our purpose is to help people recognize their impact and make informed decisions so that our environment will flourish.
Segments of the Rwandese population are extremely marginalized, however, these marginalized groups, specifically women and the disabled, possess extraordinary potential to contribute significantly to the development of Rwanda. They are an untapped resource of innovation and creativity. I have been working with disabled children who recognize no disability. These children designed our NGO logo and they possess a sensitivity with animals that is novel in Rwanda. The children live in a boarding school and have been nurtured by one very caring and compassionate house mother. I attribute much of their success in school, and in life, to the impact this marvelous woman has had on their lives. Our NGO has been working with the children to make paper jewelry – beads and pins, which are sold to help pay school fees. Upon completion of their studies, our NGO intends to train and employ all of the disabled students from this school who are interested in working in our Project.
Conservation and environmental protection are not funding priorities in Rwanda. As such, we have been compelled to develop our own means of sustainability. This dilemma lends itself to the creation of an enterprise that not only provides long-term financial stability for our Project activities, but also creates an economic structure, on a community level, that generates local wealth which decreases poverty and improves nutrition, especially for children. Implementing this vision involves empowering women to obtain economic independence by creating a dairy goat cooperative. Cooperative members, or the Cooperative as a unit, will purchase dairy goats from RwandaNOW (our new expanded mission name) utilizing a micro-lending scheme so that every member has a vested interest in the performance of each and every goat in the program. Every day members will bring their goat/s to RwandaNOW to be milked, to be provided with veterinary care and supplement feeding. RwandaNOW will purchase all milk produced that meets quality standards and we will process the milk into yogurt and cheese. The whey by-product will be sold, at cost, to the community to increase child nutrition. RwandaNOW will build the skills of all cooperative members so that milk production is maximized while, at the same time, recognizing our animal welfare mandate to have happy and healthy dairy goats. What this means is that each woman will gain the necessary skills to operate her business either through the Cooperative or on her own, e.g., record keeping skills in financial and husbandry aspects, husbandry and milking skills. This system of co-dependence provides economic security for women (and children) and raw material for us to turn in to marketable products that are much needed in the region. Additionally, we will emphasize green business practices through energy production using biogas, environmental messaging on our packaging, and recycling/reusing all of our product containers.
This dairy goat production and processing activity will make RwandaNOW self-sustaining and provide us the resources necessary to create our new institution – RwandaSEC, which will be staffed by women and the disabled. Our NGO activities are focused on local community development and we recognize that women are significant players in the community. Building women’s economic stability is essential to creating long-lasting peace, security, and independence – all resulting in poverty alleviation. Our website is being created at: www.rwandanow.org