It was the middle of the first term 2013 when a number of students approached one of their trusted mentors in the Village with an idea. After many months in their Traditional Art Enrichment Program, they had identified a, “problem,” as one student put it. The traditional art of beading and weaving that has been used for generations in Rwanda was being forgotten. This art, as one student described, “Can be traced back to before colonialism when similar products were made mostly out of grass and bones. With the influences of Europe, beads were introduced and the art became what it is today.”

A group of eight Senior 4 (2nd-year) students brought these concerns to the leadership of the Village and soon it was developed into a full business proposal with a much bigger vision: “We want to improve and use these skills to help others in Rwanda.” 

A few weeks later, the group of students presented their well-formulated ideas to Village Management complete with a full marketing plan, and a business strategy that stressed the importance of ensuring these skills continue through the next generations of young people, along with a desire from these students to be the ambassadors who will bring these skills to their generation. The real business potential this opportunity could provide is not lost on the students, but they’re quick to point out that the business affords them the opportunity to preserve and spread an important Rwandan tradition. 

After some negotiation with Village Management, the newly dubbed Vanguard Youth were in business. “We call ourselves the Vanguard Youth because we are a group of people who have set their goals and strive to work together to achieve them.” The final agreement with the Village was that these students would receive special training from ASYV Family Mama Marceline of the Adam Smith Family, who is an expert in traditional art, and that the Village would help them initially by providing materials. Students will sell what they have made in the Village gift shop, returning some of their profit to the Village. 

Today, all of the Vanguard Youth team members gather multiple times a week in the traditional art room for several hours at a time. They’ve been granted permission to remain behind during their scheduled vacation to continue their work and training and are excited to have secured a commission with Isheja, the ASYV traditional dance troupe, to create a number of costumes and accessories.  They have also recently been asked to create costumes and decoration for the ASYV traditional drumming group Abakaraza

One student reflected, “We are trying to take the opportunities that we have here at ASYV and take them seriously. This business is a chance for us to learn a real, unique and serious skill that many in Rwanda don’t remember or don’t have. We want everyone to know that we can design anything. We want to make beautiful things for you!”

If you have the opportunity to visit the ASYV, make sure you stop by the Village store, where you can purchase beautiful creations, handmade by the Vanguard Youth.