Some HIV/AIDs patients in Rwanda can rest easier knowing their families can now sustain a healthier lifestyle, using goats, tree seedlings and seeds, thanks to a Sonoma thrift store, .
Bon Marche means "a good deal" in French—as in finding a bargain at a store. But customers find more than good deals at the store on Riverside Drive. They can find the deep reward of helping families in need, half a world away.
"We have sent about $200,000 to Rwanda businesses and families since 2007," owner Anna Bimenyimana told Patch.
She and her husband, Antoine Bigirimana—both Rwandan Americans—have sent the money from sales and donations as micro loans from $100 to $1,000 to women with sewing businesses and retail operations in the African country. The nation is attempting to rebuild its economy after decades of ethnic conflict resulting in brutal massacres. Two thirds of the residents live below the poverty line, according to this BBC report last month.
In 2004, Bimenyimana and her husband began giving money directly to small businesses. Bigirimana is a co-founder of Thousand Hills Venture Fund, which supports The Kigali Center for Entrepreneurs (KCE). KCE is a non-profit organization with offices in Sonoma, Denver, Co. and Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
"In about 2009, we decided it was easier to give the money through an organization that could actually help people do something with it, because some people didn't know what to do with the money," Bimenyimana said.
Now Bon Marche works with Gardens for Health International (GHI) to help people plant gardens in Rwanda. A donation of $15 can provide a family with a home garden, including tree seedlings and vegetable seeds. A gift of $250 monthly pays the salary for a trained agricultural agent.
Bimenyimana beamed as she told the story of 11 goats that her partnership has provided to one community group.
"They are really useful for people, because the people can drink the milk—which is so good for them—and sell the meat," she said.
Bimenyimana, 44, was born in Rwanda and went to school in Brussels, Belgium. She also lived in Montreal before coming to the United States, where she met her husband.
"He'd been here forever," she said.
The couple now lives in the Sonoma area.
On any given day, customers can find an international atmosphere in Bon Marche, with Bimenyimana talking in French to her children and other people helping customers in Spanish.
Over the past few years, Bon Marche has expanded twice into bigger display areas at the same location. The store is currently about 4,000 square feet, fully stocked with appliances, furniture, clothes, shoes, CDs, cameras and gift items.