Tag Archives: people

Rwandan weddings

Besides the day-to-day running of the shop, we’ve wanted to share more about what makes Rwanda special, and what we’ve all been up to outside of work as well as in it. Nothing comes any bigger than the recent engagement of our assistant manager Claire, which she wanted to share with all of you…

This is what we call a big day...!

Most couples around the world have a single ceremony when they want to marry. Not in Rwanda! Here people can have three: the traditional engagement ceremony, a civil wedding (no wedding here is legal without one) and a church ceremony. Years of planning and saving typically go into all of this.

The DOT, or traditional engagement ceremony, used to be the exclusive way Rwandans married. At its core, it is where the parents officially acknowledge the couple and their for a life together. Today, it’s the first of the wedding events that take place over the course of a month.

The bride’s house is set up with three tents in a U shape: one rectangular for the bride’s family, a second tent facing it for the groom’s family and a smaller third one in between for the couple and their friends. Most of the day’s activities take place in the center of the U.

The couple's tent is adorned with traditional shields and weavings

First, the bride’s family and friends arrive to take their seats. It’s important for her guests to be more numerous than his, because she is the host of the event. When all of her guests arrive, the groom comes with all of his guests (family and friends – usually on a bus or two!). They bring gifts of beverages (fantas and alcohol) in large amahoro (peace) baskets.

Here come the gifts

Each family has a representative who speaks on their behalf, usually a wise old man. They begin by praying and then by welcoming each other, giving everyone a place to sit, drinks and making them comfortable. The groom’s representative gives thanks and eventually gets to the matter of their son being in love with a girl, which is when a sort of comedy duel ensues. In fun, each representative tries to trick the other, a sort of test to see if the couple will be well matched. The representatives discuss a dowry of cows, symbols both of something to replace the loss of a beloved daughter as well as the mixing of the families through their herds (cows are very special in Rwanda). Poets come and sing of how beautiful and special the cow(s) for dowry is.

Finally, the bride is able to come out with her entourage, generally four male guards, a girlfriend who is a mother, four other girlfriends and two young girls.

Claire's crew leads the way

The girls, with Claire in the centre and our manager, Marie-Louise, top right

Finally the bride and groom come together – she fastens a beaded crown (called ikamba) on his head.

The big moment

Once the bride and groom have introduced one another to their families, the festivities can really begin, with drumming and dancing. Lucky for us, entertainment for this event was provided by Ingoma Nshya, the famous all women drumming group that created the Inzozi Nziza project! This wedding was already special, but the bride being a drummer meant that she was whisked up front to join in the music!

A wedding band with a difference

After the bride and groom serve food and drinks to one another in front of all, things calm a bit and dinner is served to all guests. There’s more music until the couple and attendants go inside to drink milk and receive guests individually.

Drinking milk is the crowning moment of the ceremony

All in all, a Rwandan wedding is an experience not to be missed – and all of us at Inzozi Nzizi and Blue Marble Dreams wish Claire the happiest, most wonderful and blessed of marriages!

A word about the traditional costume
The mishanana is the traditional formalwear of Rwandan women; men wear the costume pictured here exclusively for weddings. The headband and beaded “sticks” worn on a lady’s head is a Rwandan-style crown.

Doesn't she look amazing?

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Teta Worthy

After less than two months in business Inzozi Nziza has entered the local vernacular! Reliable sources (Aime and Ernestine, our interns) have informed us that on the NUR campus “teta” — our name for a small serving – has become synonymous with reward or treat. Apparently, when someone does something particularly nice or remarkable, you can hear friends respond, “you deserve a teta for that!” That’s the kind of marketing you just can’t buy.

Leocadie couldn't be happier.

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The Milk Delivery

The success of Inzozi Nziza does not just depend on the hard work of our employees, volunteers and interns. We also rely on the cooperation of our vendors and the quality of their products. So we wanted to give credit where credit is due and tell you a bit about the projects and businesses we work with.

Habineza Valens and Mukantwari Rebecca outside their shop in Nyanza


Habineza Valens and Mukantwari Rebecca are the husband and wife team who provide Inzozi Nziza with the fresh milk that we use to make our ice cream and sell by the glass. In 1995, as Rwanda was rebuilding after the genocide, Valens and Rebecca decided to restart their own lives as well. Living in Nyanza – the dairy capital of Rwanda – Valens and Rebecca started purchasing milk wholesale from farmers and bringing it to market to resell. They began buying only five liters a day. Fifteen years later they are buying anywhere from 450 to 600 liters of local milk a day and more.

hot milk is poured into metal pots to cool before being packaged and sent off


Valens and Rebecca have two employees – and four sons – to help boil and package the milk, collected from at least six different farms, each with anywhere between eight and thirty cows. They produce good ol’ regular milk and ikivuguto, a more pungent buttermilk-like variety. Some of this milk is sold at the restaurant and shop they have opened with money from the distribution business (they also have a printing and photocopy shop attached). The majority of the milk, however, is sold in bulk to shops and restaurants in Kigali, Butare and Nyanza. Their biggest client is our neighbor, the National University of Rwanda, which purchases around 350 liters everyday. Inzozi Nziza orders about 75 liters a week, making us small potatoes in comparison – for now.

a still warm cup of milk is poured through the strainer and ready to drink

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Meet the interns

Ernestine and Aime outside the shop

We would like to more formally introduce our fabulous interns from the National University of Rwanda – Aime and Ernestine. Both interns have been tirelessly helping out here at Inzozi Nziza since February and have seen the shop through its many stages of development. They were introduced to the shop through Orphans of Rwanda, an American-based organization that supports university studies for over 180 Rwandan students. ORI offers talented young people comprehensive support as they pursue their educations and connects them with career-building internships, training and workshops.

As interns at Inzozi Nziza, Aime and Ernestine have been invaluable, translating both manuals and meetings, helping teach English, and working to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Barely a day goes by that they don’t stop by to help out or just say hello. For Ernestine, a business administration student, working at Inzozi Nziza has been a great opportunity to see the ins and outs of starting a business, particularly one operated and managed by women – something she hopes to do herself one day. But working at the shop has been valuable beyond just the career experience. Inzozi Nziza has become her family. According to Ernestine, the women she works with are the mothers and sisters she didn’t have growing up.

Aime shows Marie Rose how to use the computer. And check out our new office cabinets!

As a journalism and communications student at NUR, Aime has been particularly excited by the chance to practice his already stellar English. And as his fluency grows, Aime is also thrilled to see how the shop has developed. The transformation is truly incredible – what was just an empty storefront and a bright idea a few months ago has turned into a bustling local hangout frequented by his friends. Aime and Ernestine’s hard work and commitment have been crucial to Inzozi Nziza and we are so happy to have had their continuing help. Fortunately for us, they are looking forward to being involved, as friends and coworkers, for a long time to come.

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The perfect 10

It started with over 100 women in Ingoma Nshya. More than 90 attended English lessons provided by Blue Marble Dreams. Of those, 17 entered our trainee programme. And now, with our opening date of 5 June fast approaching, we’re proud to show you the talented, committed and inspirational employees who will form the core of the Inzozi Nziza team.

From left to right: Olive, Marie-Claire, Chantal, Leontine, Florence (hidden!), Leocadie, Seraphine, Marie-Rose, Julienne and Laetitia

The Inzozi Nziza employees will assist Marie-Louise and Nikki in running Rwanda’s first ever local ice cream shop!

Right now the team is hard at work with last-minute preparations and practice runs ready for the big opening. There’s lots to learn, from baking cakes to freezing fruit pops… but our employees seem to be loving every minute of it.

Learning to pasteurise local Rwandan milk

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‘I’m a professional dreamer’

It’s impossible to tell the story of Blue Marble Dreams without talking about the effervescent, inspirational Odile Gakire Katese, deputy director in charge of artistic activities at the University Centre for Arts and Drama of the National University of Rwanda and, in her own words, “professional dreamer”.

Odile – better known as Kiki – says that her job is to “fill the cultural gaps in Rwanda”, a country which has no national arts festival and few institutions to train and develop artists, actors, writers and musicians. It was in working towards this goal that she came to found the all-women drumming group of Ingoma Nshya.

“In the past we worked mainly with students, but we wanted to reach other people too, especially people who had the time to devote to something new,” she says. “The answer was women ­- poor women especially, and the activity that really took off was drumming. The first time they touched the drums they wanted to do it again. They didn’t need any encouragement.

“In the beginning it was just an activity. We didn’t know what effect it would have, but immediately it became more than just drumming. I think it has given the women a reason to get up in the morning. It offers relief from normal life, an escape from problems. When we’re drumming we can make mistakes. We are free.

“I told them that what they give to the drum, it will give back. If they show commitment, if they show generosity, this is what the drum will return to them. I also told them that the future would be bright – but I couldn’t promise. I could only pray. I could only tell them that this was our chance to write a new page in the history of Rwanda, because drumming has always been for men. We are the first women. Anyone else, they come after us. For us, drumming would be worth it, if only for the sake of our writing our names in history.”

But the formation of Ingoma Nshya in July 2004 led to far more than that. First there were the tours, to Senegal and to the Netherlands. The group attracted the attention even of Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, and launched Rwanda’s first ever national drum festival. For Kiki, however, there was more to aim for: she wanted to help the group do something that would support them not just emotionally, but financially, too. She dreamt of a shop, something the women could launch and run for themselves – and then, in 2008, came the fateful meeting with Jennie and Alexis at Sundance Theatre Lab in Utah.

Blue Marble provided ice cream for the workshop, and so I approached Jennie to find out what was involved with setting up a shop, to find out how far away we were from doing it in Butare,” says Kiki. “I was only asking, not putting on pressure – but it was Jennie who straight away believed. And by the time I left Utah it was all decided: we would bring the taste of sweetness to the people of Rwanda.”

Two years later, the dream is almost a reality and, Kiki says, it’s a strange feeling. “It’s not a dream any more – I’ll have to find another one! But it feels really great. To read what Marie-Louise said here on this blog… to see the women speaking English… I’m really moved.

“When we started they didn’t have confidence in themselves. They didn’t have hope or faith, and without these, how can you live?

“Now they believe – and not just in me. I didn’t do the work; they did. Not the men, not their husbands. Now they know that if you work, you have success. Now they know that even if their ideas are crazy, they can commit their work, their time, their imaginations, and then anything is possible.

“I hope this is just the beginning. I hope they will open many Inzozi Nzizas across all the provinces of Rwanda. There are still dreams to be had, still possibilities to explore. This could be just the first step. It doesn’t hurt to dream. Even if the dream doesn’t come true, it can be the start of many beautiful things.”

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Training starts here

With the interviews out of the way, Nikki, Marie-Louise, Kiki and Gloria faced the difficult task of choosing who would make our list of 17 trainees. Each of these would complete our full educational programme, beginning with food safety, extra English lessons and basic accounting, then culminating in a week of intensive training from BPeace that would cover everything from customer service to managing personal finances. In the last week they’ll learn about the food itself – including actually making our soft-serve ice cream! – and then we’ll whittle down the list of 17 to 10 official Inzozi Nziza employees. We haven’t forgotten about the rest of Ingoma Nshya, though… even though we can only offer employment to ten women, English lessons are continuing to help everyone improve their skillsets and employability.

So, following English lesson (and with the cameras once again in attendance), we announced the names of the trainees. Congratulations Aline, Alphonsine, Chantal, Drocelle, Eugenie, Florence, Julienne, Leatitia, Leocadie, Leontine, Marie-Claire, Marie-Jeanne, Marie-Rose, Olive, Restude, Seraphine and Valentine!

Inzozi Nziza's trainees take the plaudits as Nikki and Marie-Louise (left) make the big announcement

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Rwanda’s got talent

Now that we’ve found our wonderful assistant manager, the next job is to recruit the rest of the employees. After all, our opening date of 5 June is now less than a month away!

So far, ninety women from Ingoma Nshya have attended English lessons provided free of charge by Blue Marble Dreams. The next step is to pick 17 of the best – not just in terms of English proficiency, but equally their commitment, initiative and enthusiasm – for our full training programme. The Business Council for Peace (BPeace) is arriving next week to teach our potential employees the art of customer service and the basics of book-keeping, whilst also giving them a crash course on managing personal finances. After that, we’ll whittle down the 17 to a final total of just ten in time for the big opening.

To kick things off, it was time for a (friendly) grilling from our interview panel.

From left to right, Marie-Louise, Gloria, Nikki and Kiki form our team of judges

Many of the co-op had never been to a job interview, so beforehand we provided a few tips about what to wear, how to behave, what kind of questions to expect, and what interviewers tend to look for (good and bad). We know that not everyone we’re currently working with can get a job from Inzozi Nziza, but we hope that we’re passing on skills that will benefit anyone who has come to one of our classes.

Fully briefed and well prepared, our potential employees came to the shop for their big moment. And if that wasn’t nerve-wracking enough… it was all on camera!

Inzozi Nziza... the movie!

Blue Marble Dreams’ pilot project is the subject of a documentary following the Inzozi Nziza concept from start to finish – and, of course, they didn’t want to miss the emotional drama of the selection process! The film-makers are due to arrive in Rwanda next week, so for the meantime we “borrowed” a cameraman from the National University of Rwanda to capture the interviews on film.

Some people are just naturals in front of the camera...

Want to know who got through to the next round? Stay tuned…!

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Meet the team: Marie-Louise Ingabire, Inzozi Nziza assistant manager

At Blue Marble Dreams, we believe that ice cream can help you to forget your troubles, even if it’s only for a moment. We want to bring a little taste of happiness to people who may be more used to hardship, and that’s one reason why Rwanda is the perfect place for our first project, Inzozi Nziza.

But this isn’t just about ice cream. As well as being somewhere special for the town of Butare, Inzozi Nziza is also a business, and that business will provide rewarding employment and a chance to shine for members of a local women’s co-operative.

That’s why we’re delighted to announce the recruitment of our first Rwandan employee, Marie-Louise Ingabire.

Marie-Louise, 24, joins Nikki as the other half of our management team. She was born and bred in this district (Huye), and attended secondary school at Save, just north of Butare. Her father died in the Rwandan genocide when she was just eight years old; now she lives with her brother, Jean-Bosco, his wife and their two children.

In 2008 Marie-Louise’s life changed forever when she joined Ingoma Nshya, the all-women’s drumming group set up by Kiki Katese.

“I used to walk past University Club, where Ingoma Nshya practises, and I wanted to learn how to drum like them,” says Marie-Louise. “I love Rwandan culture, and drumming is something I’d always wanted to try.

“Drumming is a sport, but it’s also more than that. When you are doing it you are lost in the moment. You don’t think about anything else, the problems you have, everything you’ve been through, it’s all forgotten.”

Learning to drum was also a way of meeting a remarkable group of women, and Marie-Louise says, “Getting to know the group has helped me so much. I can talk to them and they give me advice. There are many different women there of all ages and backgrounds, and I’ve learned a lot from them.”

It wasn’t long before talk at Ingoma Nshya turned to ice cream. Marie-Louise remembers: “Kiki used to say that she had a dream of providing all of us – widows, orphans, anyone – with a business, maybe a bakery or a cafe. Then she met Alexis and Jennie from Blue Marble, and she told us her dream was going to come true: we would open an ice cream shop. And when Kiki thinks of something, she makes it happen. First she thought of women drummers and, even though women don’t drum in Rwanda, Kiki thought of it and now it is reality. So when she said she wanted to open an ice cream shop in Butare, I knew it would happen.”

Since then Inzozi Nziza has come close to fruition, with premises near to the university campus, English lessons for the women of Ingoma Nshya and interest from all around the world. But before a team of employees could be selected, the first job was to find an assistant manager, and Marie-Louise knew that she was up to the job.

“I know what Inzozi Nziza needs,” she says. “I was the first to sign up when the ice cream co-operative was created. I know that this business can help with Rwanda’s development, and the South Province in particular, and I want to be a part of it.”

So she knew she could do it – but did she think she’d get the job?

“There were so many applicants I didn’t think I’d make it. But I knew that if I was given the chance then I could do a good job. And then, for it to actually happen, to be made assistant manager, it’s a dream come true. This is my time to show what I can do.

“In my first two weeks I’ve been doing something different every day. I’ve been supervising builders; I went to Kigali to buy the appliances we’ll need; I’ve even been helping to paint the shop. I’m enjoying it so much. I’ve seen on paper what the shop will look like, but I can also see it in my mind. I can see the people sitting outside. I know exactly how it will be.”

For Marie-Louise, managing at Inzozi Nziza is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s one she is determined to make the most of.

“This job will change my life. It will help me to develop myself as a person, and it will help my family because now I will be being paid. I can pay the school fees for my brother’s children. I might be able to save enough to go to university and study business. But it isn’t just about me and my family. Inzozi Nziza will help our whole community. We will buy our milk, our strawberries, our bananas, everything, from local farmers, helping them to find a new market and new income. Everyone who works here will benefit, and everyone who comes here will taste something new and delicious.”

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Meet the team: Nikki Grey, Inzozi Nziza project manager

Helping Inzozi Nziza to take its first steps into the world is Nikki Grey, a Californian with a Master’s degree in public health and years of experience in community development.

From 2003-2007 Nikki lived in Central America, first serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in agriculture and development in Belize, then traveling and working throughout Guatemala. She first came to Rwanda in 2009 to help establish a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping project for Partners in Health. While there, she fell in love with the country, decided to stay, and in January 2010 accepted the position of project manager for Blue Marble Dreams, putting her in charge of everything from training local women in English to co-ordinating plumbers, builders and electricians.

“I’m enjoying the challenge,” she says. “When I started in February we had an abstract concept; now we’re bringing it to life. It isn’t always easy – finding the tools and materials you need can be difficult, so you have to be flexible and creative – but it’s worth it just to interact with the women here. They are so energetic, so kind. To watch them learn English and start to crack jokes, to see how they get along with each other… it’s just so much fun.”

Being able to help those women is a huge motivation for Nikki. “This project could have a very significant impact on the lives of the women we employ. The money they’ll earn could be the difference between their kids ending education at primary level and going on to secondary school or even college. It could be the difference between them just getting by and really making it. For all the women we’re training, even those we can’t employ at the shop, we’re providing them with skills and tools so they can get into the world of work. They’re gaining confidence, not just because people from overseas work with and value them, but because they’re learning a language that many Rwandans, even well-educated ones, don’t know yet. The skills they’re developing could really empower them.”

Nikki's responsibilities include providing basic training in English to Inzozi Nziza's potential employees

But Inzozi Nziza won’t just help the women who have received training from Blue Marble – it will also provide a sustainable, long-term benefit to Butare. Nikki says, “This is a wonderful city with so much art and culture, yet it doesn’t have a ‘scene’. It has a huge cross-section of people, but that can mean that it doesn’t always feel unified. Inzozi Nziza could be a positive place, an affordable place that everyone could enjoy. We could bring people here together.”

Nikki is provisionally contracted to work in Butare until February 2011. “The plan is to make myself obselete,” she says. “I’ll know I’ve done a good job when I can leave behind a well-run business with well-trained women who can make this enterprise thrive. I want to be able to come back in five, ten, even twenty years and enjoy an ice cream cone here at Inzozi Nziza.”

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