In 2008 Jennie Dundas, the 40-year-old co-owner of Brooklyn's socially conscious Blue Marble Ice Cream shops (they use local organic milk and renewable energy), met Rwandan drummer and playwright Odile Gakire Katese at a theater workshop. Inevitably, they got to talking about the 1994 genocide that killed 800,000 people and left Katese's homeland in a seemingly permanent state of mourning. Katese had an idea.
"She thought an ice cream parlor would bring joy and indulgence, as well as empowerment through jobs," Dundas says. After raising $80,000 in grants and donations, Dundas's business partner, Alexis Miesen, 35, journeyed to Butare (population 90,000) to help train members of Katese's all-woman Ingoma Nshya drumming cooperative, most of whom scraped by selling eggs or braiding hair, in shop operations.
These days, with Dundas and Miesen's help, the drummers run an ice cream parlor called Inzozi Nziza ("Sweet Dreams") that enables its 11 employees to feed, clothe, and educate more than 70 family members; it also contributes to the livelihood of dozens of dairy farmers, coffee bean growers, and beekeepers.
Since about 90 percent of Rwanda lacks access to electricity, most customers have never tasted frozen treats. Homemade flavors like maracuja (passion fruit) "typically inspire amused shock," says Miesen. "But most people have no problem finishing their bowl." Eventually, the Rwandan women will assume full control of the business. "And we'll cheer them on from the sidelines," says Miesen.