Located on a one-hectare site in the Kayonza district in eastern Rwanda, the Women’s Opportunity Center is energizing one small community’s subsistence-agriculture economy through female empowerment. Traveling to the center’s daytime classes and events on foot, residents—many of them survivors of war—learn income-generating skills, such as animal husbandry and processing techniques that can sustain food cooperatives. As many as 300 women participate in training at any time.
The project is organized in a manner akin to a vernacular Rwandan village, divided into 17 human-scale pavilions whose clustered arrangements engenders familiarity and community among occupants. Erected in clay brick, the buildings center on an inviting, publicly accessible plaza where students sell food, textiles, baskets, and other products made on site. Potable water is collected from the pavilions’ corrugated roofs, while vegetation planted on two of the structures provides their interiors with extra insulation.
The facility is designed in collaboration with the humanitarian organization Women for Women International, and as such it poses a more expansive role for architects. In particular, the design of the Women’s Opportunity Center takes social equity into consideration, by weaving job training into the scheme. Future students were assigned the manufacture of pavilions’ bricks, using clay extracted from nearby sites as well as a manual press method adapted from local building techniques. Hands-on construction administration improved workers’ skills, as well.