Rwanda has made great strides in rebuilding and political reconciliation since the 1994 genocide that killed 800,000 people, one fifth of the population. But the country still has a ways to go, with a majority of the country below the poverty line and subsistence farming providing 90 percent of jobs. Time's Lee Middleton thinks he's found a way that Rwanda can move forward: ice cream. Middleton reports on NGOs setting up ice cream parlors in Rwanda, providing good jobs for women and a safe social setting for members of the once-divided Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups to interact, especially as children. Middleton writes:
The shop's founders may be dreamers who see happiness as an important development goal, but they are also business people who intend for Sweet Dreams to be a self-sustaining venture that will provide people with employment and income for years to come. And according to Susan Thomson, reconciliation scholar at Hampshire College's School of Critical Inquiry in Massachusetts, bringing an ice cream parlor to Butare is a step towards bridging the tremendous divides -- between elite and poor, returned refugees and those who never left -- that bifurcate Rwandan society. "I see value anywhere where people can come together in a neutral space and have an informal conversation," she says. "Informality creates the ties and networks of communities that Rwanda so desperately needs to create."
Blue Marble Dreams plans to replicate the ice cream parlor project in various spots around the globe, but as Miesen says, "First things first. We need to give the shop in Butare the attention and support it needs to really get going and succeed. Then we'll look to the next one." And that means focusing on the first shop in Rwanda to offer locally made ice cream (using all local ingredients), which will initially come in two flavors: sweet cream and strawberry -- or a swirl of the two. Only time will tell whether Sweet Dreams will be a success, but it would appear that ice cream has already brought more than a dollop of hopeful happiness to Rwanda.