Last fall, the Akilah Institute was
approached by Women for Women International (WfWI) with a proposal to jointly develop a Culinary Arts program to educate vulnerable women in essential cooking skills (Read our press release on the program here>>). Although Akilah’s focus is a 2-year Business Diploma in Hospitality Management (soon to be expanded with a Diploma in Entrepreneurship in September 2012), Akilah and WfWI share the same mission of helping women and bridging the gap between education and the business community. The partnership was ideal as Akilah provided the technical knowledge, curriculum development, and understanding of the Rwandan hospitality industry while WfWI lent financial support and selected the program participants. After six months of rigorous training, both academic and practical, fifty-three women received their Culinary Arts Certificates last Friday night, April 27th, at a graduation event at Heaven Restaurant in downtown Kigali, Rwanda (See more pictures from the graduation ceremony on our Facebook page >>).
All the trainees participated in food preparation for the evening, creating a gourmet menu of beef, fish, chicken, soup, and vegetable dishes, with fruit and cake for dessert. Akilah CEO Elizabeth Dearborn Davis and the WfWI Rwanda Country Director spoke before the dinner, thanking Heaven for providing the location for the women’s training and Chef Pierre of Mille Colline Hotel and Chef Innocent from Bourbon Coffee for leading
the women’s courses. After the meal, the trainees showed their appreciation by presenting gifts to the chef trainers and program managers, and one of the students put her new public speaking skills to use by giving a speech thanking Akilah and WfWI on behalf of all fifty-three trainees.
The event was a great success, with guests such as US Ambassador Donald Koran, founder of Urukundo Village Arlene Brown, and Director of Generation Rwanda Michelle Hamilton. The trainees were extremely proud of their new skillset, clapping and cheering on their fellow classmates during the certificate ceremony, and are excited to begin gaining experience in the Rwandan tourism and hospitality industry.
Akilah and WfWI are pleased with the outcome of the program, as we send fifty-three off into the workforce equipped with the knowledge and skills to find suitable jobs and improve their lifestyles. Before entering the program, these women were earning money by selling clothes in the marketplace, growing vegetables, and performing manual labor on construction sites, earning less than
a dollar a day; by placing them into well-paid jobs in restaurants and hotels, this program will make a considerable difference for them and their families. Trainee Eugenie elaborated on her appreciation for the program, saying, “Before, my life was difficult, because I couldn’t get an education and couldn’t pay any school fees”. She has one child and her husband is jobless, meaning the family relies solely on her to provide money for food and shelter.
Prior to the program trainee Beatrice worked selling cooked beans from her house, providing for her three children and husband. She said it was difficult to make ends meet, but “it was better than nothing”. Her favorite dish to cook during the course was fish with different sauces, and she hopes to one day open her up own restaurant. Program Manager Benitha Bamuyugire reflected on the past six months, stating “The best part of the program was to see these women change physically and mentally, developing self-confidence and public speaking skills through the leadership program and knowledge that they gained. I hope to continue working with these women in the future”.
This program has delivered hope to these fifty-three women, while also contributing to Akilah’s effort to strengthen the workforce needed to support Rwanda’s burgeoning tourism and hospitality industry. We are grateful to WfWI’s partnership in developing the course, and giving these women the opportunity and technical skills to move into Rwanda’s fastest growing industry.