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Keneuoe Mphutlane Headshot

Passion, Fashion and Development

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Rwanda now commemorates the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide, and while we celebrate the achievements the nation has attained thus far, it is also very crucial to discuss ways in which the impact of the conflict on the lives of many survivors can be improved. I grew up often hearing and later debating on the topic of woman empowerment and I am convinced that it is necessary for the time in which we live in. This topic is at the heart of many organizations -- profits and nonprofits; it has attracted a very large audience, discussed on highly esteemed forums while in some places even regarded a taboo. I could not ignore the need to discuss ways in which we could empower women who were widowed at an early age in 1994 and had no higher level education or the means to get education (something they had no need for prior to the genocide because culturally, husbands had to bring home the bacon). Woman empowerment is embodied in helping the young girls that were orphaned in 1994, and are now young women who had no means to advance their education or get any form of training that would enable them to occupy a decent job or perhaps even become entrepreneurs. This is where the practicality of the discussions some of us have been a part of and others have even merely learnt of, comes into play.

I learned about the 1994 genocide in an International Politics class in my freshman year at the College of Idaho and further spent time educating myself on the impact of the conflict on young women and girls. Having lost both parents by the age of nine, I immediately identified with young girls that lost their parents during the conflict. Having been raised by my grandmother, I understood the struggle of women that have to raise children on their own and have lost their husbands, their property and all means of survival. I thought it was interesting that Girl Hub conducted a study in which they were testing what object would better improve the life of a girl living under conditions that classify her vulnerable, between an economic stove, a lamp, a reusable pad and a sewing machine. The objects were picked on the basis of their use to the young girls in their daily lives and conducted in different provinces of Rwanda. It revealed that the majority of the girls picked the sewing machine over the other objects. I learnt of this study through an email with Yvette Umutoniwase, a Research Assistant (Genocide Archive Rwanda) at AEGIS Rwanda, who was also a part of the team that conducted this study. This was after I reached out to her about "Fabulous Development," which I founded with the purpose of providing financial sustainability and psychological uplifting to young female genocide survivors as an attempt to minimize the effects of the genocide on their everyday lives.

What "Fabulous Development" is, is a room with sewing machines, vibrant fabric, trainers and a professional designer that would accommodate young female genocide survivors between the ages of 24 and 34 and train them in the intricacies of professionally created modern African print fashion items, and further in the distribution of those items to the global market through the use of an online store and other distribution channels. The name choice is an attempt to deviate from any descriptions that would further victimize the young women by defining them in terms of their past circumstances. This is such a simple principle that, people need to be allowed to graduate from being identified as something that was forced upon them circumstantially, and once that is done, they are in a better position to identify with something greater and even achieve more.

I introduced "Fabulous Development" at the Clinton Global Initiative University 2014, and although it only made it as far as the finals in the Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge, it did receive a Commitment to Action award for taking an exemplary approach in dealing with post conflict issues. I have formed partnership with an incredibly talented fashion designer in Rwanda, Sonia Mugabo, who has received tremendous recognition for her first collection "Mix n' Match," showcased in Kigali after graduating from Buena Vista University.

There is still some fundraising work that needs to be done before the project pioneers over the summer, but my best friend told me that often than not, life throws an issue at us that we need to deal with and the only time we can live fulfilled is when that task has been accomplished. The impact of the 1994 genocide on young women comes to me as such an issue, and even though it is the greater than any tasks I have accomplished thus far, I look forward to sharing this wonderful journey with you all.