In Rwanda and the US, men play an important role in the work of Azizi Life.
Whether it’s carving our wooden holiday and home products, beginning new social enterprise projects, participating in community development programs, or providing vision and direction alongside women leaders – Azizi Life is blessed to have these men contributing their time and talents to bring beauty and purpose to their communities and world! Read on to meet three of these remarkable men!
Meet Literacy Program Graduate Eurade
Eurade is a carpenter who works in his rural community making furniture. A few years ago, he had a great opportunity – an order from the local bank to make benches for their customers at the branch. Eurade made the benches and delivered them to the bank as promised. The bank manager created a payment agreement for the carpenter to read and sign. But Eurade was illiterate and could not understand what was written. The bank manager said to him, “Well, if you can’t read the document then how can you agree and sign?” Eurade asked other bank customers to help him to read and understand what was written. But they began to laugh at him and say, “What? A man like you? You don’t know how to read?” In the end, Eurade left his newly-crafted benches at the bank and left in shame, without payment.
Shortly after that, Eurade heard an announcement about Azizi Life’s literacy class. Immediately, he signed up. When the class began, he applied himself very seriously to his studies of reading and writing. He attended every class, participating actively and with determination. Through ten months of study, he mastered reading and writing, passed his exam, and proudly graduated the literacy program in 2017.
After that, Eurade returned to the bank. “Okay,” he said, “I am now a changed person. I now know how to read and write. Bring the payment agreement, and I will read and sign.” They were amazed. He explained how the situation had pushed him to learn to read and write. They brought the agreement, he read, signed, and was paid.
Rwanda’s literacy curriculum is designed around lessons for improved wellbeing, this includes a lesson about the value of savings groups. Eurade’s class founded a savings group and he was voted the president. The group not only saves together, but the members also offer one another support, making contributions when someone has a problem or a celebration. After their graduation, the group continued to meet, inviting the students of the subsequent literacy classes to join in. This keeps the students connected and growing together, under Eurade’s capable leadership.
Eurade also decided to continue to apply himself to the work of literacy. First, he encouraged his wife to register to learn to read and write this past January. He also volunteered to assist the literacy class, which is now approaching graduation. He attended every class, making himself available as an example and helper for the students, including his wife. At the beginning of the term, he gave his testimony to inspire the other students. They thought, “Wow, we know how Eurade was before, and now look! Here he is with this knowledge and confidence.” Eurade helps to facilitate small groups within the class, and he even fills in for the teacher when she is absent!
Recently, Eurade had the opportunity to give his testimony before the mayor of our whole region. She was amazed!
Meet Azizi Life Co-Founder Tom
Tom MacGregor is a 42-year-old British entrepreneur who moved to Rwanda in 2007. Tom’s desire to work in Africa began the year before he went to university. He shares that he fell in love with the region after volunteering in Africa with Mercy Ships (a Christian medical relief organization) as a deckhand while doing a discipleship training course. “They say the red dust gets under your skin, but for me, there was just something about the place, the friendliness of the people that attracted me to the continent.”
In explaining what led him to think about social enterprise in Rwanda, Tom said, “Turning thirty was a turning point for me…Working as an insurance broker just wasn’t the right fit for me; I wanted to do something that made more of an impact in the world in the way that I felt designed for. I Googled ‘Africa’ and ‘business’ since I knew that senior management in development wasn’t really a route I wanted to go down; I wanted to work far more with the people that I would be serving. The connection to Rwanda came with a short-term mission trip that I went on with my church.”
A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being.
The idea for Azizi Life was formed during time volunteering with Food for the Hungry’s regional office in Muhanga. Tom’s role was to research businesses in the area, writing business plans and reports, some of which fed into the early work with Azizi Life. “We were trying to see how we could circulate money back into the local economy – to keep it at the village level, rather than disappearing to Kigali (Rwanda’s capital city.) I visited local communities with some Food for the Hungry colleagues and saw that while many artisans were producing handicrafts, local people weren’t purchasing them. Also, the artisans weren’t making any profit from their craft, since people just paid for the raw materials.”
With a capital injection from Food for the Hungry, Tom was able to start a handicraft social enterprise that paid the artisans a fair price to make their work worth their while. With the help of Christi, an American colleague, and Jeannine, a Muhanga local and now CEO of Azizi Life, they built relationships with artisans and purchase their crafts. Although it was never the plan, Tom and Azizi Life started exporting products to the United States.
Creating and expanding a business can be compared to raising a child. When asked about what growing Azizi Life has taught Tom about being a father, he said, “I became a dad relatively late in the game and being single and carefree for so many years, I must admit going from being alone to being three in the home within three years was a bit of a shock to the old system. But thankfully if I have learned anything from my time with Azizi Life it is that change is good.”
“…if I have learned anything from my time with Azizi Life it is that change is good.”
Change is almost a continuous state for a social enterprise like Azizi Life. The organization has grown from a couple of volunteers in a shared office with a broom cupboard for a stock room to a group made up of two businesses, two non-profits, about 20 full-time staff/volunteers and over 450 artisan partners in just ten years.
“This growth did not come about without its share of pain and suffering,” Tom said. “However, just like I discovered when I became a dad, the joys far, far outweigh the sleepless nights and worry. I had an amazing single life where I traveled the world and was involved in some wonderful experiences, but truly nothing has compared to the adventure of becoming a father.”
Tom also shared the similarities between preparing for the unknown in fatherhood and entrepreneurship. “I have always been a bit of a worrier and the thought of bringing a child into this world filled me with a new level of fear, so much so that our first child’s middle name is Lilly. It reminds me daily that God will take care of all things (Matthew 6:8), and thankfully He has.” During his wife’s pregnancy, Tom read every article and book he could find on becoming a dad. Despite a wealth of research, he did not feel completely prepared when the big day arrived. “Likewise, when we started Azizi Life, I did not feel ready or prepared but thankfully God walks alongside us and fills our lives with wonderful people who stand by us, support us, encourage us, and enable us to become more than we ever could have imagined.”
Meet Artisan Aimable + The Inganzo Cooperative
“I was 16 years old when I had my lower-leg blown apart by a mine.” Aimable (pictured right) pulled up his trouser leg to reveal his prosthetic limb. A broad-set man with a kind face overshadowed by a bright orange baseball cap, he relayed the day that irrevocably changed his life. His task was to keep watch over some cows as they grazed in the hills, but as they wandered into a patch of woodland, and as he followed them into it, he unwittingly stepped right into the path of landmines left over from previous warfare. He was to spend the next eight months in the hospital.
However, since that tragedy, Aimable’s life has dramatically changed for the better, in part because of his craft and his cooperative, called Inganzo. Hewn from years of hard work and perseverance, this small group of men forms a solid unit of shared knowledge and skill, and none of this would be the case were it not for some nuns who took it upon themselves to visit Aimable while he was languishing in hospital. Not only did they help him to get a prosthetic leg, but they also offered him work when he recovered. They asked him if he wanted to train in woodcarving, following a visit from an Italian clay worker and woodcarver, who would go on to share her knowledge with Aimable, and Sylvere, another man in need of decent employment. Jean de Dieu, Celestin, Joseph, Emmanuel, and Faustin, would later join them to form the Inganzo woodcarvers.
Aimable’s disability was a terrible liability in a community where most of the work involves manual farming and building. However, fair wage income from his carving has enabled him to create a beautiful future. Aimable hired others to construct a home, and he is now a husband and father of two, supporting his family through his craft.
Azizi Life is honored to partner with capable and determined father artisans like Aimable.