Building a Future for Rwandan Women, Brick by Brick Building a Future for Rwandan Women, Brick by Brick

Building a Future for Rwandan Women, Brick by Brick

by Benita Hussain

March 23, 2012

The Women's Opportunity Center in Kayonza, Rwanda, will not be a place for victims, but for survivors. When the facility opens in 2013, it will train women who lived through Rwanda's 1994 genocide to help rebuild their country, literally brick by brick.

In the region's traditional brickmaking method, known as "slop-molding," brickmakers pour wet clay into a mold, then use the moisture to jostle it out before it dries fully. When placed on the ground, the moist bricks can deform under their own weight, and, in the sun, they can dry out too quickly and begin cracking.

"We did all this research about brickmaking in other parts of Africa and the world," Engel says. "Then we thought, 'How about we combine our desire to make a better brick, the desire to have the women more involved in their own center, and WfW's mission for job creation and income generation?'" The result was the formation of a cooperative of 250 women who began to use a "sand-molding" technique, which results in denser clay and more consistent, solid bricks.

The learning curve was frustrating for everyone involved, and the group produced just a few hundred bricks each week for the first few months. Now 30 women in the cooperative make 20,000 bricks a week and are just 100,000 bricks away from having enough to build the Women's Opportunity Center. After finishing that job, the cooperative hopes to continue selling bricks to other developers around Rwanda.

The WOC is scheduled to open next March on International Women's Day. Engel, who now lives in Kayonza full-time and teaches architecture in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, says the project is still very much an experiment. But for the brickmakers that have steady work and can pay workers to till their land while they're at the foundry full-time—the foundation is strong.

Photos courtesy of Sharon Davis Design

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Building a Future for Rwandan Women, Brick by Brick