Rwanda, in the heart of Sub-Saharan East Africa, is a tropical paradise with deep rolling green hills, mountains, rain forests and savannas. The flowers and vibrant colours of the fabrics make Rwanda come alive with creative inspiration. Its people are warm and welcoming and in a decade of teaching there, we have made lifetime friends who have become family. Rwanda has quickly become a beacon of hope for Africa as it heals from its devastating past.
The inspiration that led to the creation of Doda, grew from a deep desire to heal women who had survived genocide, women who had experienced first-hand the worst of humanity and had known true terror and loss of family and purpose. Through building community, employment and self-confidence we can restore dignity and help them to provide food, clothing and education for their children.
In 2008, Johanne St.Louis became involved with a project in Rwanda while researching cooperatives to begin a Fair-Trade pajama company. She worked with a Canadian organization in Kimironko, with a small sewing program and raised funds to install a professional sewing workshop with industrial equipment, train and work with the group of 20 sewers for two years. During this time she met many designers and participated in several group fashion shows. Johanne went on to work with Utexrwa, sewing schools, cooperatives, organizations and professional tailors to improve their technical skills and production methods and to help them market their products.
In 2014, Doda International Canada was established to help raise funds and provide support for the project. Soon after, Doda International Rwanda was registered in 2015 as a separate organization in Rwanda to facilitate projects. These two organizations work together to improve the lives of vulnerable women and men and provide a safe, inclusive and compassionate environment for our trainees and beneficiaries.
We have watched the fashion industry in Rwanda grow exponentially in the past ten years, with many new designers starting fashion houses and sewing cooperatives across the country. It is a privilege to share our knowledge and love of sewing and fashion with designers, sewers, tailors and trainers throughout Rwanda. Recently there has been a push to further develop the garment production industry. In order to achieve this goal, there must be advanced training and coordination within the cooperatives. Our past experience working in the industry has provided valuable insight on how we can best help to improve the livelihoods and businesses of sewers in Rwanda.