Film screening tells something 'Sweet' about Rwandan women starting business

Twenty years after it happened, the Rwandan genocide, where an estimated one million people were murdered in just over three months, still has a profound impact on its survivors.

Drumming troupe of women play music in front of Sweet Dreams, an ice cream shop, in the city of Butare in Rwanda.

Drumming troupe of women play music in front of Sweet Dreams, an ice
cream shop, in the city of Butare in Rwanda.

But the country is determined to move forward, and a sweet symbol of that recovery effort will be on display at the Strand Theater in Seymour April 9 with a screening of the documentary film Sweet Dreams. The film chronicles the experiences of female survivors of the 1994 genocide and their journey to entrepreneurship. The film begins at 6 p.m.

April marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide and while other films have documented the atrocity, Sweet Dreams is telling a new kind of story, the story of remarkable women who dared to dream of new possibilities for themselves and their country by launching the first ever ice cream shop in Rwanda. Fran Pastore, president of the Women’s Business Development Council, was part of the team that went to Rwanda in 2010 to train the group of 10 women in all the aspects of running a business.

“Prior to 1994, the only thing women were allowed to do in Rwanda was agriculture,” Pastore said. But after the genocide, the survivors were disproportionately female, and the new government took steps to allow women into previously all-male roles.

But how did a group of Rwandan women partner with the Brooklyn-based owners of Blue Marble ice cream? That story begins in the mountains of Colorado.

A little about ice cream

Pioneering Rwandan film director and national university faculty member Kiki Katese attended the Telluride Film Festival, and she met Alexis Missen, a part-time actress who owns two ice cream shops in Brooklyn.”

The two chatted briefly about Missen’s business, and Katese remarked that ice cream was unknown in her country, but that she was looking for opportunities for Rwandan women to start businesses.

The idea grew from there, and Pastore was recruited through her work helping women-owned businesses and her involvement with the group Business Council for Peace.

With Missen providing the seed money, and Pastore and others providing the training, the shop opened in the small city of Butare. Documentary directors Rob and Lisa Fruchtman of Litchfield recorded their struggles to build their cooperative — including their delight as they learn to make and taste ice cream for the first time.

Pastore said the shop remains open, serving classics like chocolate and vanilla, in addition to other flavors made from local fruits to suit local tastes.

‘Inspiring’

“In Rwanda, the average monthly wage is about $30,” said Pastore. “These women are earning $90 a month.”

Those who attend the screening will be inspired by the determination on display everywhere, Pastore said. They also will get a chance to ask questions of Pastore and Missen after the film at an ice cream social and Q&A session.

“It’s a truly inspiring story about a remarkable group of women,” Pastore said.

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