Saturday, February 5, 2011

The ABC’s of Bagels

If you spend any time in Kigali and mingle with the international community it won't take long for the conversation to turn the African Bagel Company (ABC) or their Saturday morning donut day ABC is part of a ministry called the Women’s Training Center that was started by Robin Smyth. The Smyths, a family of six originally from NH, moved to Kigali five years ago after feeling a call to Rwanda. There passion was assisting the extreme poor and sick with a hand up, not a hand out. Through the years, Robin and her husband Rich have created a variety of avenues to empower Rwandans and give them the skills and education needed to break the cycle of poverty.

The Woman’s Training Centers is a ministry specifically targeted to disciple the widowed, orphaned or HIV positive through financial planning, health and hygiene, and career skills for women. It doesn’t take long in this country to notice an absence of men in the culture. Whether it be from genocide or cultural traditions, they are simply not around or engaged in the family. Leaving tens of thousands of women alone struggling to provide for there children.

The African Bagel Company began when Robin was working with a group of women training them in the area of cooking and nutrition. At an women’s Bible study a few members mentioned their craving bagels as a connection to home. Robin worked with the ladies from the training center and made some bagels for the Bible study. From there, the women began placing orders for bagels throughout the week. It soon spread through the international community here via schools, churches even the US Embassy. Today, Robin works with a dozen or so women supplying bagels to throughout Kigali.

At first glace this may seem merely like a business, finding a niche like bagels in Africa and supplying them to an ex-patriot population, but is so much more than that. ABC is a tremendous holistic model in working to transform the lives of these women. Their day is not about making bagels, in fact bagels are simply to tool to give them a trade, an education and a sense of empowerment. Their days are evenly divided between financial planning, english classes, devotionals on how to live a Godly life, HIV/AIDS education and nutrition and health education for themselves and their families. Even the process of cooking is devoid of modern appliances, which allows these women to perfect a skill set based on traditional practices, that of cooking on charcoal.

Growing on the incredible success of bagels, Robin began teaching the ladies how to make donuts which are only available on Saturdays,  -  first come, first serve. ABC has become the “watering hole” to the international community as one women told me today. A place to gather, network, share in-country experiences and simply enjoy some amazing donuts and coffee.

Each Saturday the numbers seem to grow and the donuts increase. Today was one of the largest numbers to date. In addition to the donuts, Robin has added chips and salsa, pizzas and even home made chocolate chip cookies to the lineup. The most impressive addition to the ABC story has been the work of local artisans. There are baskets for sale crafted by a severely handicapped orphan who is has lost the use of her hands and is unable to walk. The ability to sell her baskets creates an income which supports her family. There are photographs on the walls from a project called Through The Eyes of Hope where local children affected by HIV/AIDS capture their world using digital photography. Not only does ABC offer an venue to expose these artisans talents it creates a revenue stream which radically impacts their lives. 

With the understanding that making an impact in ones life requires more than just charity, the Smyths have taken a practical, on the ground approach to breaking the cycle of poverty and empowering Rwandans through a hand up, not a hand out. It was with this understanding that I enjoyed my three fresh-baked donuts at ABC this morning. After all, who doesn’t want to be part of the solution?


  1. I think my friend will be serving in this community. God bless you for your work to help those in need.

  2. Without a doubt the best bagels in the whole world :-)

  3. What is the Bagel Company address in Kigali?