This creatively designed cap attracted my attention the moment I entered the gift shop at the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center (WOC). The said shop is set up next to Urugo Roadside Cafe, my regular stopover en route to Akagera National Park.
Kitenge is an African fabric that stimulates creativity. It can be converted into a shirt, wallet, laptop bag or whatever crosses your mind. Traditionally, the iconic fabric is used to sew an assortment of women’s attires. Lately, a wide variety of kitenge apparel has emerged.
Before Covid, I used to go to the market in every new town. A visit to the market was an experience in itself. It was my way of connecting with members of the local community, feeling their vibe and capturing their spirit.
I like the whirring sound of sewing machines. Every market in this country has a swarm of tailors. One of my favorite activities in those markets is to buy a piece of kitenge and watch a tailor turn it into an item of my choice within minutes.
During one of my previous visits to Urugo WOC, I interacted with young women who are in tune with fashion and the latest trends in the global market. Their products can compete against any other established brands out there.
Ingabire Aisha has been plying her craft at the center since the successful completion of her training program, courtesy of Women for Women International. "I am still sharpening my skills. The skills development aspect is a continuous process." She told me. Through her savings, she bought her own sewing machine. Owning a machine enables her to work from home when she needs to.
Irakiza Martha, a diploma holder in Computer Science, is envisioning a brighter future despite the uncertainties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. She is planning to launch her own label and leverage the power of technology to grow her brand.
I don’t go to the markets as often as I used to but I still stop by the curio shops quite often. These craft markets are exhibitions of art. They showcase beauty and demonstrate the artisans’ devotion to labor. From a curio shop, a tourist walks away with a little piece of the host country — a precious souvenir that rekindles cherished memories. In addition, these outlets play an important role in creating a viable commercial link between visitors and the community.
The first time I dropped by the Urugo WOC’s gift shop, I had a hard time deciding what to buy. I felt like a kid in a candy store. This time round, the cap with a detachable mask stood out from the crowd. It was an easy choice.
The author is currently visiting all 30 districts of Rwanda. His tour of Kayonza is sponsored by Ikaze Rwanda Tours & Travel, Akagera Rhino Lodge, Imigongo Art Center, Jambo Beach, Silent Hill Hotel and Ihema View Campsite)