Thriving tourism sector helps rural Rwandan women
The Red Rocks Cultural Center in Nyakinama village, Musanze district, this year started English classes for rural women belonging to different cooperatives to enable them to easily communicate with foreign tourists.
Home to the Volcanoes National Park, which is famous for its mountain gorillas, Musanze district is the heart of tourism in Rwanda.
The cooperative women make utilitarian products such as pots and baskets and aesthetic handcrafts like jewelry and beads, which some of the tourists buy after gorilla-trekking.
Marie Nyirabigirama, a 33-year-old mother of 3 and resident of Susa village, is a member of the local Amaboko yi Imigisha Cooperative. She says the literacy classes they attend in the evenings have immensely improved her English language skills, and now she can competently speak to tourists who come to buy her handcraft products.
“Before I joined the classes, I found it difficult haggling with tourists who came to our cooperative, and sometimes I would lose the opportunity to sell anything just because of [the] language barrier. But now, any time I meet tourists, I’m able to talk freely and transact business with them,” she says with enthusiasm.
Polline Muhawenimana, 36, is a mother of 4 who demonstrates to tourists how to make the local banana beer, known in Rwanda as Urwagwa. She says that initially she had to rely on a translator whenever she was demonstrating to the visitors how to make the beer, but now “things have changed since I enrolled for the classes. Now I can speak directly to them,” she says.
Belta Ntawangkaje, 40, says she and her colleagues have learned more than English here. These classes, she says, are tailored to teach them how to create and implement their own business plans and to take care of their health and family health through proper washing of hands, sanitation, and hygiene.
Furthermore, “During these literacy classes, I’m able to learn many things and make informed decisions for my family. All my children are in school, and I hope to continue supporting them to have a bright future,” she says.
Ntawangkaje adds that even though she went back to class just to learn English so that she could ably communicate with tourists, she has come to realize that education is “more than just learning one subject, for I’ve learned more to do with my rights as a woman, the value of educating my children, and how I can handle money matters to save for the future.”
Their current class teacher, Sumaya Beekun from the University of Nevada who is doing her internship here, says the women have shown remarkable thirst and passion to learn the language, and they can now easily converse with tourists.
“The initial challenge was that when we started, some of these women didn’t even know any of the 26 letters of the English alphabet. But it’s amazing that within these few months they’re now able to speak to tourists, which shows the level of their personal commitment to learn,” says Beekun.