My First Time to Rwanda

by Emily Yaksh, US Sales and Brand Manager

When my flight finally landed in Kigali, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I stretched my legs and took my eye mask off. I’d been in airports or airplanes for 28 hours straight and I honestly wasn’t even sure what day it was. But I was excited, I knew that much.  I stepped off the plane to be greeted by a glorious wave of warm air that was well received by me, since it had been 4 degrees when I left the states. I stumbled through customs and went to find the only person I knew in the whole country. Now the real adventure began.

Facing my first day in Rwanda meant getting on the back of a moto (motorcycle) with a driver whom I didn’t know, who only spoke a language that I also didn’t know. Mind you, I’d also never been on a motorcycle before. No stress, right? I closed my eyes and said my prayers, but we arrived with no hiccups to the office where our staff and artisans work.

It’s a small building, but WOW! Does it pack a punch. When I walked in the front door, I first saw the The Hope Shop. Our brick & mortar store in Kigali. With pleasant sales associates and product from many of our partners I was delighted to actually get to try on things that I’d only seen in photos. I could see the vibrant colors, I could smell the leather, I could touch the bead work. It was a whole new experience with our products.

But on that first day, the part I’ll remember the most, was heading back to where all the offices were to meet my coworkers. These people I’d been working with for months but only seen photos of or heard on phone calls, and now I could hug them and share laughs in person. These delightful humans who keep our business in Rwanda running and help our artisans on a daily basis. They are the real MVPs. They not only make sure we’re filling our orders and producing high quality product, but they look out for our artisans physical, mental and spiritual well-being as well. They look out for our artisans, going above and beyond to keep them safe.

Over the next 10 days I was able to work in a much more hands-on way than I’d obviously ever gotten to do before. I got to do some training with the staff, got to work with our sales associates in our store, and even do a little experimentation with designing for future collections! It was harder than I thought but it was fun. My favorite part was always getting to sit out in the workshop and listen and watch as our artisans created jewelry that you guys are now wearing. I, quite obviously, couldn’t speak their language, but watching them work hard to produce a product that they can sign their name to, and be proud of, filled my heart with joy. And knowing that I get to bring that product back to that states and then send it you, made me even happier.

So next time you put on your leaf earrings or your savvy studs, take a moment to think about the woman who made them. Who’s choosing to take control of her life and forge her own way into the world, through something as simple as jewelry. A woman who is providing for her family and receiving holistic healing simultaneously. Think of her.