In Rwanda, an innovative new education center hopes to direct economic opportunities to women in hopes of elevating the rest of the community.
The NGO Women for Women International (WWI) has commenced construction on an innovative agricultural education center in semi-rural Rwanda. Designed by New York City architects Sharon Davis Design (SDD), the center is conceived as an environmentally sensitive way to improve the lot of those who can best elevate the rest of the community: women.
More than 15 years after the Rwandan genocide, “the biggest threat to women, and all Rwandans, comes from a lack of economic opportunity and access to education particularly outside the urban centers,” architect Sam Keller tells Co.Design. Women, WWI believes, are uniquely poised to facilitate change. Research has shown that women handle money better than men; they’re more likely to distribute wealth among family members (rather than hoard it all for themselves) and repay loans. Empower women, then, and you can empower whole communities.
So the Women’s Opportunity Center–which will cover two acres in Kayonza, about an hour and a half outside of Kigali–is designed to support up to 200 women a day in a range of entrepreneurial activities, from subsistence farming to brick-making. The layout was inspired by a lost Rwandan housing tradition and has a distinctly intimate–some might even say feminine–quality. “The site strategy SDD employed is derived from a village concept or, a clustering of smaller, less imposing structures organized around a central gathering space structure for community-wide events like graduations, weddings, and other celebrations in the middle of the site,” Keller says.
Circular open-air pavilions made of brick will be used for classrooms. Their shape and modest size are intended to foster a sense of intimacy among groups of about 20 women each. The center will also include a canteen, a farmer’s market, guest lodging, and a demonstration farm where women will learn how to collect animal waste to make their own biogas fuel for cooking.
The lessons in self-sufficiency will begin even before the first class bell rings: Women will use local clay to hand-press the roughly half a million bricks needed to build the center’s pavilions and other infrastructure. “In this way, women are both growing to embrace sustainable methods, as well as having a chance to make the center truly their own,” the architects say. “In a larger sense, women are also learning how to help with future building projects that will bring commerce into the community.” Brick by brick.