Jeanne Siporin, originally from New York, has lived in Phuket for eight years, and set up the Ubushobozi project around 2007 after she and her daughter visited Rwanda on a volunteer trip.
Jeanne and her daughter spent time establishing a pre-school, but were really taken by the older teenage girls who would hang around the school, eager to be involved.
After the age of 11 or so, education in Rwanda is no longer free, which means many girls miss out on the opportunity of a proper education because they can’t afford it.
Many are also orphans following the genocide in 1994, or are the sole providers for their families. Jeanne was particularly touched by a couple of these teenage girls, and came back to Phuket inspired to establish something to give value to their lives too.
The Ubushobozi project, which means ‘power’ or ‘empowerment’ in the local language, was set up to help young girls in villages in the Musanze area of the country by providing them with sewing machines and teaching both sewing and life skills as a way to help them to eventually sustain themselves.
They now not only sell their items to people in Rwanda, but also internationally thanks to the connections and help from the international volunteers.
The town of Musanze is at the foothills of the Virunga mountains, where the late American zoologist Dian Fossey did research on mountain gorillas.
The town still attracts a lot of tourists who come to visit the area, and tour guides are more than happy to bring them to the Ubushobozi project building where they can buy handicrafts made by the women, learn more about the way of life for the women involved, and watch a traditional dance performance.
Jeanne rents a house in the village and the 10 girls and four women think nothing of walking 50 minutes each day to the house, to learn sewing, weaving and other skills.
“Our aim is for them to be self-sufficient without being reliant so much on funding,” Jeanne says.
“When some of the girls first came they couldn’t even write their names. Now, they can not only write their names, but they learn English, business, computers, traditional dance and are even trained in yoga. Being there really grounds me, and I learn so much from them.”
Jeanne is holding the “Night in Rwanda” fundraising event along with fellow Phuket volunteer Petra Teslerova to raise money which they hope will allow them to bring more teenage girls into the programme.
For an outlay of B21,000, Ubushobozi can provide a sewing machine, lunch, materials, a stipend and insurance for a girl and her family for a year.
The event will start at 6.30pm on November 30 at the Shanti Lodge on Soi Bang Rae, off Chao Fa West Rd.
A silent auction will include items from Atmanjai, Naturally Balance, Twinpalms, Friendship Beach Resort and Angsana.
Tickets are B600 and include hors d’oeuvres and two glasses of wine. Bags made by the women from the project will also be available for purchase.
For more information and tickets contact Jeanne on 087 895 5617 or visit ubushobozi.org