A business-savvy Boulderite uses her knowledge to help Rwandans help themselves.
Educationâ€”be it farmers learning to identify potato blight, widows mastering rabbitÂ husbandry or orphans attending school for the first timeâ€”is Carole Canale-Mayetâ€™sÂ definition of empowerment.
Such empowerment is the key to the success of her Boulder-based non-profit, VillageÂ Makeover. Canale-Mayet is founder and director of the organization that carries outÂ sustainable development projects in the village of Cyanika, Rwanda.
As emblazoned on the homepage of the organizationâ€™s website: â€śItâ€™s not aboutÂ charityâ€¦itâ€™s about changing lives.â€ť
Canale-Mayet spent her childhood among the stacks of her familyâ€™s record shop inÂ Ocean City, N.J., and supplemented this nitty gritty business know-how with an eclecticÂ collection of marketing courses at Front Range Community College and the University ofÂ Colorado. Her initial forays into business management were in the health food industry,Â but she has since swapped soy patties for sustainable development.
Village Makeover is Canale-Mayetâ€™s first venture in the non-profit world, and she saysÂ the switch was an act of gratitude:
â€śI feel like life has given me a lot, and I believe what drives me is that I have aÂ responsibility to give back.â€ť
In terms of logistics, though, she says the basic premise of a non-profit organization isÂ needs based, much like that of more lucrative endeavors:
â€śWhen you look at a business,â€ť she explained, â€śyou see what the need is, and you try toÂ fill that need.â€ť
Rwanda has no shortage of needs.
The Rwandan genocide in 1994 devastated the Tutsi people when a Hutu Power groupÂ used military force to systematically rape and kill the nationâ€™s ethnic majority.
Willy Rumenera is a native Rwandan, a witness of the genocide and an advocate forÂ those widowed, orphaned or impoverished as a result of the tragedy. He is also Canale-Mayetâ€™s business partner.
Rumenera and Canale-Mayet met at Vinelife Church in Longmont in 2005. The churchâ€™sÂ senior pastor, Walt Robertson, saw potential in Rumenera while conducting leadershipÂ training courses in Rwanda, and invited him back to Boulder. Despite the evangelicalÂ origins of the partnership, though, Village Makeover is not religiously affiliated.
â€śWalt Robertson saw and believed in what we were doing,â€ť said Rumenera of his non-profit work in Rwanda, â€śso he invited me and my family for training to learn how NGOsÂ function.â€ť
Canale-Mayet and her husband hosted the Rumenera family during their two-yearÂ stint in the states, developing a friendship as well as a business plan. Canale-Mayetâ€™sÂ management skills, paired with Rumeneraâ€™s on-the-ground experience, finally pushed theÂ fledgling organization out of the nest in 2008.
In the two years since its inception, Village Makeover has implemented numerousÂ initiatives based on community-directed needs assessments in Cyanika, a rural village inÂ northwestern Rwanda.
The list of project areas demonstrates the organizationâ€™s comprehensive approach toÂ sustainable development:
- Agriculture and livestock
- Economic development
- Social opportunities
Education is at the top of the list because it is the driver for success in all other areas.Â Village Makeover employs a methodology called â€śEach One Teach One,â€ť which Canale-Mayet learned from the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco.
The premise is to teach a particular subject to a small group of people, and makeÂ them accountable for sharing that knowledge. Eventually the expertise spreads like aÂ providential virus, empowering the entire community.
A rabbit-breeding program, for example, now supplies meat to local restaurants, fertilizerÂ to local farmers and a source of income to local widows. Village Makeover taught theÂ skills to a few widows, and now all 300 in the village are actively involved.
The Rwandan government has distributed rabbits in the past, but the villagers simply ateÂ them. Now government leaders are sending letters to Village Makeover, commending theÂ program and inquiring about the effectiveness of their methods.
Village Makeoverâ€™s success, says Canale-Mayet, is the result of distributingÂ responsibility along with the rabbits. The widows constructed and managed the self-replicating enterprise, which showed them the value of the rabbits in the bigger picture.
The picture continues to grow as they plan the infrastructure for a new goat breedingÂ operation, and pass their expertise on to neighboring villages.
This self-directed initiative is a testament to the empowerment that Village MakeoverÂ emphasizes.
â€śWhen we do these projects, weâ€™ll teach, weâ€™ll organize, weâ€™ll help resource,â€ť saysÂ Canale-Mayet, â€śbut we do not do the work for them. They have to do the workÂ themselves.â€ť
Farmers, who comprise 80 percent of the population of Cyanika, are also hard at work.Â Agriculture experts from Kenya and the University of Wisconsin at Madison trained themÂ to identify and discard diseased potatoes, effectively doubling the annual crop yields ofÂ this dietary staple. The farmers have since constructed a diffused light storeroom andÂ proposed a crop storage facility to accommodate the increased potato production andÂ employ additional villagers.
Once enfranchised, the villagers have no lack of ideas. They are now partnering withÂ Griffin Mueller, a graduate student at Stanford University, to acquire cell phones that willÂ provide health and nutrition information to Cyanika via text messaging, as well as up-to-date market prices for the farmersâ€™ crops.
A gardening project is also being incorporated into the schoolâ€™s curriculum to provideÂ a school lunch program and teach students how to raise vegetables. A water-capturingÂ system on the schoolâ€™s roof will likewise provide drinking water.
Such collective action is proof that community cohesion is essential even, or perhapsÂ especially, after a crisis. Despite the desperation in Cyanika, the villagers are not selfish.
“[It] always amazes me,â€ť says Rumenera, â€śto see that they also care about other peopleÂ who are suffering.â€ť
He cited the story of one particular widow who spent her days and nights holding anÂ umbrella under the leaky grass roof of her hut to keep her children dry. When the roofÂ finally collapsed during a storm, the womanâ€™s last hope washed away with it.
The woman voiced her intentions of committing suicide to a neighbor, who rallied herÂ fellow widows and, with support from Village Makeover, helped her build a new roof forÂ her home and family. The woman is now living under one of 25 newly installed roofs inÂ Cyanika, according to Rumenera, and there are 10 more on the way.
â€śThe stories,â€ť Canale-Mayet says. â€śI hear the stories and that lights me up.â€ť
In order to write happy endings to these stories, though, the organization needs resources.
As one grassroots start-up among many, Canale-Mayet says the grant- and donation-dependent organization sometimes struggles to drum up sufficient financial supportÂ for its projects because people â€śdonâ€™t pay much attention to needs past their ownÂ communities.â€ť
For Boulderites, Rwanda is a far off place. For Rumenera, though, it is the place he callsÂ home.
He describes the organizationâ€™s growing pains as â€śthe common reality that characterizesÂ any worthy initiative at the early stagesâ€ť and he remains actively hopeful in order toÂ avoid â€śreaching out empty-handed to such very needy and hungry people.â€ť
Rumenera says he is humbled by the success of the organization in Cyanika over the pastÂ two years. The widows, the orphans and the impoverished have become the empowered,Â the educated and the enfranchised. And the proof is in their smiles.
Village Makeover â€śis not just about roofs or rabbits or the farming project,â€ť Canale-Mayet says. â€śWeâ€™re about changing a community and the peopleâ€™s lives within it.â€ť
Contact Village Makeover:
Originally from the “Dairy State,” Breanna Draxler has since swapped Wisconsin for Colorado toÂ pursue a masters degree in environmental journalism at CU Boulder. Â When notÂ writing, she spends most of her time putting miles on one of the following: Â herÂ running shoes, her cross country skis or her frequent flyer card.