Embracing the Empowering Journey

How one small Rwandan company made inclusion work for everyone

Nestled between the many hills of Rwanda is a small village of Masaka. A creamery operates there, buying milk from the local farmers and producing yogurt, ice cream, and butter. Their products are high quality and very popular, but their reach is still small.

Hidden behind their heart-shaped logo is a truly special story. It started with an unlikely hero, a young woman from Masaka, who had trouble finding employment because of her disability. 

“I was born with a hearing impairment”, Josiane starts. Services for people with disabilities in Rwanda are scarce, especially in smaller villages. Even simple things become complex and hard. 

“During my childhood, I encountered a significant personal challenge when my father passed away. I was 10 years old. After that, my mother was incarcerated. As a deaf child, the absence of parental support proved to be an exceptionally difficult experience,” Josiane says.

She struggled to go through high school, and with her mother’s imprisonment, the responsibility of her education fell upon the assistance of supportive relatives who helped her to complete high school. Unfortunately, due to insufficient resources, she  was unable to pursue further education at the university level.

Josiane grew up surrounded by poverty and vowed to work hard and break out of it. Upon completing high school, she  experimented with painting and engaged in construction work, but could not make much. Then, through an unexpected  turn of events, a new opportunity presented itself.

Josiane smiles as she remembers: “I heard that Jon Porter, the owner of Masaka Creamery, had expressed interest in hiring an individual with hearing impairment. I applied. I met with Jon and had an interview, which went well. I was extremely joyful when he told me that I got the  job.”

It was a new start, a stable job, that also paid fairly well. Josiane was excited for all the opportunities this job would bring, and for a new respect she’d receive from the community as an employed young woman. 

Josiane operating a yogurt processing machine at Masaka Creamery in Rwanda.
Josiane operating a yogurt processing machine at Masaka Creamery in Rwanda.
Martin Tindiwensi, USAID/Rwanda.

At the Masaka Creamery, she found it a pleasant place to work. The machines were very loud, but that did not bother her at all, since she could not hear any of the noise. The colleagues were friendly, and the managers, too. But, soon enough, Josiane realized that the problem of communicating with the rest of the world followed her into her new workplace. 

She was different, and usually all alone. 

After a little while, Josiane seriously considered quitting. She spoke to her supervisor about the issues she was facing, certain that the only solution was for her to leave. The supervisor, however, had a different idea:

“Jon made the strategic decision to employ additional deaf staff members. He organized a comprehensive sign language training for the entire staff.” 

This not only improved communication channels, but also fostered a more enjoyable work environment, enhancing both the quality of interactions and her overall job satisfaction. 

“Every morning I greeted everyone using sign language, which proved to be a remarkable accomplishment as the entire staff quickly acquired proficiency in this form of communication,” she says.

Josiane stayed, thriving in her new community, and in life. She got married, and had a son Jean Claude, who is the center of her world. She proudly signs how beautiful he is, and how well he’s growing. 

“This job has had a profound impact on various aspects of my life. I am now able to effectively attend to my parental responsibilities while also making and saving some money. I have a dream of establishing my own small business,” she says. 

Masaka Creamery also started growing, and soon they needed to hire more people to operate the loud machines. They decided to tap into the community of deaf Rwandans, and bring them in. It was a natural fit, as the new employees found a team who could sign with them. There are 34 deaf staff members working at Masaka Creamery.

Nowadays, when you visit Masaka Creamery, regardless of your looks or abilities, you’re welcomed with smiles and signs. Within minutes, each visitor can sign “hello” and “thank you”, if not more. 

Josiane encourages youth living with disabilities to work hard: “Each day, we navigate a world that presents unique challenges, but we should remember that our abilities far outweigh any limitations imposed by our circumstances.” 

USAID/Rwanda is proud to have supported this small inclusive business by providing machines and linkages to finance and markets. USAID issued a $280,000 grant for Masaka Creamery to acquire new dairy processing equipment, cold storage equipment, and milk quality laboratory equipment, which resulted in an income increase of 20 percent for 2,000 milk farmers in the Eastern and Northern Provinces and met market demand and quality requirements

Inclusion is a core principle woven into all of USAID/Rwanda programming.

To watch a short video with Josiane, please click here.