A new space for the women of Dukunde Kawa Cooperative

Arriving at Ruli washing station, HQ for the Dukunde Kawa cooperative in Rwanda’s Northern Province, we are greeted by a chorus of brightly dressed women, clapping, dancing and singing to welcome our small group. It’s a sunny day, and the warmth and joy of the women is infectious; we start to dance and clap along. We are here to officially open Ruli’s new craft and community building, and we have a big day ahead of us.

The women are part of the Rumbagira Kawa Cooperative, a smaller group within Dukunde Kawa that was formed by female coffee producers to share support and resources with each other. Many of the founding members were widowed by the 1994 Genocide and relied upon each other for farming and financial advice. The group has since been opened to all women in the Dukunde Kawa cooperative and has grown to 249 members across all three of Dukunde Kawa’s washing stations.  Rumbagira Kawa’s leader, Odette Murekatete, spoke to us about the social impact of this community “We share our learnings amongst each other, so we can provide opinion from one to another …our solidarity is something we can build on”.

One of the projects initiated by the group was to teach its members how to weave traditional handicrafts, which are sold to visitors to the washing stations and at the local markets. Rumbagira Kawa buys the raw materials for the baskets in bulk and sells them to the weavers at cost. The completed baskets are coded and sold anonymously to ensure fair opportunity for all of the weavers, and the total profit goes back to the creator. The bright and colourful baskets have become an important source of revenue for the women, outside of coffee harvesting and processing.

When we visited Ruli in 2018 the women were working on their baskets outside, on the floor, unprotected from the intense heat of the day. During that visit we asked Isaac Nsanzahahoro, Executive Secretary of Dukunde Kawa, how we could support their members best and he identified the need for a dedicated space for these women to work in. We immediately committed to raising the necessary funds to build them a room for that purpose, with the goal of it being completed by the time we visited this year.

Walking up the hill towards Ruli’s dry mill we see the recently constructed community building for the first time. It’s an impressive little house, with large windows and tiled floors. Its rooms are allocated as the workroom, office and storage space, with bathrooms out the back. This building will be used exclusively by the women of the Rumbagira Kawa Cooperative and provides both an administrative base for the group, and a place to store and display their handicrafts and supplies. We are handed a set of keys by Odette and invited to officially open the building. It’s a rewarding moment, only topped by the delighted reactions of the women as they enter the room and check it out for the first time.

This achievement is a group effort. Beyond the incredibly hard work and hustle of the Dukunde Kawa and Rumbagira Kawa cooperatives, there are many people in Australia who helped bring this project to life. With the help of our dedicated and invested friends and customers we were able to raise over $10,000 earlier this year, which completely funded the local materials and labour costs of building this space. We were overwhelmed by the response to our fundraising campaign, with so many people willing to give so generously. We could not have done it without the remarkable support of our coffee community here in Australia, and for that we are endlessly grateful.

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