Sunday,November 16, 2008
A Taste of Hope for a Tragic Land
Andrew Henderson for The New York Times
For Jennie Dundas, left, and Alexis Miesen, dreams and obstacles.
By JAKE MOONEY
THE Blue Marble ice cream shop, on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, has been open for just over a year, and it took only seven months for its owners — first-time businesswomen — to open their second store, in Prospect Heights. For their next venture, they have in mind a location slightly more ambitious: Kigali, Rwanda.
The improbable dream — for a nonprofit store, or eventually a chain, that would provide jobs and support Rwandan dairy farmers in addition to peddling cones and sundaes — was born, improbably enough, in Utah. It was there that Jennie Dundas, a co-owner of Blue Marble who is also an actor, was in a workshop at the Sundance Institute with Odile Gakire Katese, a Rwandan drummer and playwright.
About a week after they met, Ms. Gakire approached Ms. Dundas with the idea of opening an ice cream store in her home city, Huye. As the country approaches the 15th anniversary of the 1994 genocide, she said, such an act could bring a small measure of relief.
"She said: 'This is exactly what my country needs. Ice cream is the embodiment of the small amount of joy in a person's day,' " Ms. Dundas recalled recently, sitting at a table in the back of the Atlantic Avenue store. Soon, Ms. Dundas and her business partner, Alexis Miesen, had formed a nonprofit organization with Eric Demby, a co-founder of the Fort Greene market Brooklyn Flea.
The organization, called Blue Marble Dreams, has raised about $35,000 toward its $150,000 goal since it was founded in October, Ms. Dundas said.
Despite such success, the project faces formidable obstacles. Much of Rwanda is without electricity, and though the country has an established dairy industry, uneven cattle health and a lack of refrigeration are drags on milk production, said Ms. Miesen, who worked for 10 years in international development before starting Blue Marble. One of the project's goals, she added, is to give local dairy farmers more business, and thus an incentive to improve.
The first store, the founders decided, should be in Kigali, the nation's capital, which has infrastructure, although places like Huye remain a possibility down the line. The store would initially provide 7 to 10 jobs, with the potential for a few dozen more as the operation expands.
Beyond the logistical hurdles, there is a skeptical refrain: Of all the things Rwanda needs, is ice cream high on the list?
Ms. Dundas and Ms. Miesen have a ready answer: The idea, they point out, came from a Rwandan, who saw ice cream as a small symbol of hope.
"We don't think we're going to save the country, or save lives, even," Ms. Dundas said. "It's just this pocket of possibility. They've experienced the ultimate darkness of humanity. Who could deserve a light experience more than they, and how could we not provide that experience if we can?"
P.O. Box 3867
Kigali - RWANDA
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