Beatrice is still the same tough lady she was six years ago. Holding a constantly ringing phone at her ear, she manages her affairs like a professional. At the same time, she bids her customers a warm welcome to one of her two fabric shops in Kigali. She patiently answers all our questions with a charming smile. And you can bet that we have lots of questions after six years!
Is she actually still a client at a microfinancing institution? She looks me with a piercing glance and responds with a serious expression: “Of course, it is they who made me great!” She adds that she also has an ongoing loan with a commercial bank. I learn what she uses it for later on.
Of course, our conversation also touches on the pandemic. I hear that she and her husband Aimable became infected last summer. Fortunately, this did not have any serious consequences for them. Has she felt the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis? She nods, telling us that many of her clients have lost their jobs, while others are spending less. Still, she hopes that the Rwandan economy will recover very quickly. She hasn’t been forced to lay off anyone and employs a staff of ten at her two shops, and another ten at her sewing workshop.
I ask if she has been travelling at all lately. Before the pandemic hit, she flew to Dubai every month to buy fabrics. Béatrice says she visits Dubai only once every two months now. In the meantime she has also been buying fabrics in Turkey, and her next destination is China!
From her impressive recital in Belgium at the time, I also remembered that she had five children: four boys and a girl. Two of her sons and her daughter have joined our meeting. After all, Béatrice’s venture has since become a family business. Everyone, except a son who is living on Cyprus for his studies, is somehow involved. “We can all sew clothes”, explains the youngest. “Our mum thought it was very important and taught us all.” Meanwhile, I also learn that her eldest son, Bruce, became a father eighteen months ago. Congratulations, Grandma Béatrice!
I ask her if this might be a reason for her to work a little less and rest a little more? She responds by flashing that beautiful smile that won our hearts in 2015. “No, I will keep working as long as I can. I will do everything I can to give people jobs and opportunities, just as I was given them.”
She starts talking about her new project. I am speechless with admiration when she tells me that she opened a training centre for young people and women from poor families in Gakenke district, in northern Rwanda, last year. Here, they learn to use a sewing machine, repair clothes and shoes and use a computer. Béatrice immediately corrects me when I write down that the first seventeen people have since completed her training course. Seventeen? No, there were seventy! Her dream is to launch this project in other provinces in Rwanda as well. However, she realises that the current model is not feasible. She finances everything, including the commercial loan: from the rental of the centre to the purchase of sewing machines and computers to the salaries of the four teachers, the secretary and the director. But she smiles and says she is certain that good people will help her realise her plans.
I smile back at her, and ask if she has any more surprises in store? “Well”, she says, “I’d like to go back to Belgium to see all these amazing people!” And, of course, for a taste of those delicious pralines!’ I don’t need to tell you that her smile grew even wider when I handed her a box of pralines, which I had brought from Belgium especially for her, with the message that she is always welcome to come and see us. We have already agreed that Béatrice will visit us next year!