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Kigali: Dreaming in times of Corona

Fiacre Mutabazi from Kigali, Rwanda, is the founder of 'MyStory', an organisation that shares stories that inspire, connect, and enable young people to pursue their dreams. In Rwanda, a relatively low number of cases of people infected with Coronavirus have been registered so far. As the Rwandan government announced the first serious anti-virus measures today, Fiacre shares the inspiring life story of Alexander Bell Nshimiyimana, a Rwandan designer and entrepreneur who designs and produces clothes made out of colourful kitenge fabric.

I grew up spending time at my mother’s shop in Kimironko Market surrounded by beautiful fabrics and the whir of sewing machines. At first, I found the market boring and disliked being there. Nonetheless, over the years it started to peak my curiosity. I soon taught myself how to use the traditional sewing machine, sitting at the tailors’ tables when they would leave for a few minutes.

In the beginning, it was just a joke and I did it for fun. One day after school I was playing with friends when I realized I had ripped my pants. I was ashamed and too scared to show my mother. I went to a tailor I knew well and asked for help fixing the pants. The man, a family friend, was going to charge me 50 francs (the equivalent of 5 cents USD), but at 10 years I didn’t even have that much.

Instead, I waited for the tailor to leave and sat at the machine and fixed the pants myself. In the months and years following, I began spending more and more time running around the market exploring new ways to get involved. I started by collecting small scraps of kitenge (colourful pieces of fabric) and sewing them together to make small purses, wallets, and bow-ties.

'In the months and years following, I began spending more and more time running around the market exploring new ways to get involved'

When tailors in the market discovered that I knew how to sew they would hire me to sew 10 bow-ties for 100 francs. This was exciting for me; I was in fourth grade at this point. I could go to the tea shop to buy a small mandazi (doughnut) and show off to my friends that I was making money. Soon, I was making large quantities of small accessories to sell to local shop keepers. As I increased the volume of products I could sew, I used the profits to go to secondary school in Ngororero and Nyaruguru District. Even though secondary school took me away from Kigali, I used my vacation time to design new outfits and improve my skills.

I started bringing new styles to wear on the weekends at my school. I was well known for patchwork print pants and even teachers started asking me to make them clothes. Suddenly, I had become a fashion mogul. My promising small business venture took off in 2014 when I met Peace Corps Rwanda volunteers working at my school in Southern Rwanda.

Photo by Fiacre Mutabazi

That year, I was invited to participate in BE (Boys Excelling) Camp in the Southern Province. This leadership camp is an annual program directed by Peace Corps Rwanda volunteers in each province of Rwanda. For the next two years, I attended the camp as a student. After graduating, I returned as a guest speaker in the career panel of the 2017 BE Camp. I credit much of my success and self-discipline to what I learned at BE Camp. I feel incredibly thankful for the friendships and encouragement from the Peace Corps Rwanda community.

The thing that I want to say is that the world is running so fast, everything is going crazy so if people know they have to work, they shouldn’t just sit and watch. I take the example of people like Mark Zuckerberg and Alexander Graham Bell who had dreams and worked to achieve them. It’s really a good thing to have dreams but it is another thing to work on them.

'It’s really a good thing to have dreams but it is another thing to work on them'

Just stop dreaming, make sure you are investing a lot of time and commitment to what you actually want to dream and the rest will be a good story to tell. Do and try. Today, I continue to push the limits of design.

This story was shared by Fiacre Mutabazi from Kigali, Rwanda. Mutabazi is a social activist who founded a social organisation called 'MyStory' that uses stories to inspire, connect, and enable young people to make their dreams come true.

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