My journey with Taylors and Creating for Good began way back in July 2017 when I received an email from Jess Henderson. I still have that email, and I can still remember reading it, late, when I should have been trying to sleep.
“Their proposal is for a year long collaboration – that has honestly had us pinching ourselves for the last few months. We will be working alongside them to host four workshops – focussed around their coffees and teas – throughout the year, which are all about craft, travel, food and nature, culminating in an all-expenses paid trip to Rwanda to meet some of the Taylors tea and coffee farmers”
I knew immediately that this was something I needed to do. An opportunity that would probably never come around again. A truly extraordinary chance to go on the most epic of personal journeys, and not least one that would hopefully make a little bit of difference.
You see I’d always been a shy girl without much self confidence, but without much warning my world had been turned upside down, and at this time I was pretty much at rock bottom. The little self confidence I had was shattered, and I was struggling. I was feeling very much more alone in the world than I ever had done before.
For me to even consider taking on a project of this length and magnitude, let alone leaving my kids for a week to travel to east Africa, was… bonkers?! Brave? A little bit of both maybe. Maybe it takes both those things to do something so far out of our comfort zone.
Aside from the personal journey, at a time when Instagram was evolving into a slightly odd place where creativity seemed to take second fiddle to profitability, the idea that I could get involved with something worthwhile appealed massively.
I wrote all about the itch I have to do something that “matters” with my photography in my last post about the project here. Please give it a read for more context and my connection with Taylors and Creating for Good.
Going to Rwanda is one of the things I am proudest of, and I did it for me. Aside from the fact I know my kids are proud of me for going, I am also proud of myself. And to say I loved it is an understatement.
There aren’t really the words to sum up how I feel about our time there. I loved every minute, but it also took me to the extremes of sadness and horror, and pushed me physically and emotionally almost to the brink. But one thing I never, ever felt, was alone.
The women I travelled with are the most incredible, awe-inspiring bunch of people I know. Each and every one of them has so much heart, and I’ll never forget the both the joy and the tears that we shared. Listening to Dolly Parton for 4 hours off road driving in torrential rain was definitely something to remember.
I am writing this with tears in my eyes, and it’s taken me 3 months to be able write it at all. It feels impossible to do justice to the work that Taylors do in Rwanda (and other origin countries they buy from), and also the incredible people we met there who do so much good. It gives me life to know that there are people like them who are selflessly helping others in these ways.
Maybe one day I’ll write about it again, but for now this is the best I can do. I’ll let the images do the talking and take you with me on an extraordinary journey.
Kigali – The Genocide Memorial Museum
We visited the Genocide Memorial Museum on our first day. I’m very glad we did, because understanding what happened in Rwanda in 1994 underpins everything else you see in the country. From this moment everyone you talk to, and everyone you pass in the street, you will know that the genocide will have effected them in some way.
The museum is now the final resting place for over 250,000 people. Its’ work is not only to document and to archive what happened during those 100 days of unimaginable terror, and to teach us how and why it happened, but also to provide somewhere for relatives of those who were killed to come and feel closer to them. The single rose lying on top of the vast concrete tomb is a stark reminder that this is not just a museum, it’s a place of mass burial.
I didn’t take many photos that day. I wish I’d taken more but it seemed futile at the time. Please take a look at the Kigali Genocide Memorial website to read more about the amazing work they do. It’s our responsibility to learn and remember.
The Women for Women education programme, Kigali
On our second day we visited Women for Women in Kigali. Creating for Good have a history of fundraising for Women for Women, and this was part of the trip that was important for all of us. As a charity, Women for Women help women whose lives have been destroyed by war and famine, equipping them with the skills they need to rebuild their lives.
Through a year long programme women are taught a marketable skill such as weaving or bread-making, as well as how to save money, have a bank account, about family planning and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases -all within a sisterhood of 24 other woman. This helps to breakdown the isolation caused by war and gives her a tight knit support group and community.
Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center, Kigali
The next day we visited the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center set up by Women for Women, to see the program brought to life. Situated in beautiful rural Rwanda, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland, is the amazing eco-lodge. Since 2013 the center has provided a secure environment where womens cooperatives can work, farm, and trade – moving “from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency”
The “Artisans in Residence” at the lodge are producing high quality goods that are sold in the marketplace at the lodge, at the giftshop, and taken to other markets elsewhere. Please take a look at the website for more information on this amazing place and the work they do.
Sorwathe Tea Estate, Kinihira, Rwanda
After leaving Kigali we travelled in a convoy of Land Rovers to Kinihira. At a higher altitude, it is where some of the finest tea is produced and Taylors have been buying from this estate since soon after the genocide.
The estate is exemplary with it’s fair trade record, and Taylors have invested in many projects here including a porridge project for 3-5 year olds, and a sanitary towel project for the girls at the high school, both of which we were fortunate enough to visit.
After a slightly surreal night spent at the estate lodge under a lacy mosquito net, we got up at 5am for the sunrise. Never have I been more glad that I set an alarm for sunrise. The valley had disappeared into the morning mists with only the mountain tops peeking through.
Ejo Heza – A Beautiful Tomorrow
Our final stop in Rwanda was a visit to the amazing Ejo Heza coffee farming collective, a part of the Kopakama coffee estate. Taylor’s have been buying from this collective for their coffee blends for a while, and now have a roast dedicated to this very special coffee collective. It was a huge honour to see this, and the emotion in the ladies from Taylors was tangible. Clearly this was something that meant a lot to them.
Ezo Heza translates as “beautiful tomorrow”, which sends a big old tingle down my spine. A female only collective set up after the genocide to empower and support women farmers – their tomorrow is filled with hope, and all being well peace.
Cormoron Lodge, Lake Kivu
Our last base in Rwanda was the incredible Cormoron Lodge. Perhaps one of the peaceful and beautiful places I’ve ever been. Those distant shores belong to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where hundreds of thousands of Rwandans tried to cross the border to escape the genocide and it’s after effects. It’s a stark reminder – despite being a land of astonishing beauty and vitality, it’s brutal past is never too far away.
I left Rwanda a changed person, I think we all did. The progress that has been made here since the genocide is quite unprecedented, and the spirit of forgiveness and togetherness in the Rwandan people is something that could all learn a lot from.
All you can hope is that the human race will learn never to repeat the atrocities that happened here and that Rwanda will have her beautiful tomorrow.
This post and the project as a whole was sponsored by Taylors, in collaboration with Creating for Good and Women for Women. I am beyond grateful to Taylors for including me in this extraordinary journey.