Ian: There is a history of essential oil production in Rwanda. When the Ikirezi project started (Centred on Geranium essential oils) there were 3 key questions that Nicholas had to address 1. Can we grow it? 2. Can we process it? 3. Can we market it? The answer to all those questions has proved to be yes with the quality of the organic geranium oil produced deemed to be about the best (if not the best!) in the world.
Lisa: In terms of the social element of Ikirezi, the aim has been to partner with people (and mainly women) and impact on those that need help the most – i.e. widows and orphans. Their involvement with Ikirezi has obviously had a major impact on their lives – you could see and feel that! Certainly in financial terms, but there is obviously a real bond and friendship with these women, and of course shared experiences. This results in a really good atmosphere at Ikirezi, although the women have been through unimaginable horrors (as with just about every Rwandan we met) they seem so happy and content. We walked up into the geranium fields. Women had come in specially to meet us. The co-operative has three sites. The one we visited has 4 acres and 100 workers, mostly women and orphans. It gives women a chance to work together one day a week and to make an extra $200 a year. Everything is organic. The plan is to buy every woman a cow so that in the future, Ikirezi will buy their manure from the women and use it as compost for the plants. The cooperative is currently trialing lemon grass and eucalyptus and there is a plan to develop a range of essential oils and products.
The women who work at Ikirezi are totally inspirational. They were all homeless. Their husbands and most of their families were murdered in the genocide. Ikirezi has given them hope, faith, confidence and money which can be used to sustain themselves and send their children to school. We heard 3 of the women tell their stories and were totally humbled by them. We then trekked up the hills to the condensation/distillation plant – all very interesting.