For many people, honey is just a sweetener they use as a substitute for sugar—but for Jeanne Sheila Uwibona, there’s so much more to the sweet, viscous food substance. Honey is a social empowerment product she is using to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable women and children in her society. If you have been to Lemigo Hotel in Kimihurura, you have probably seen a shop called ‘Ubuntu HoneyBee’ with honey products. Ubuntu Honeybee is the brainchild of Uwibona, a social entrepreneur who through beekeeping and honey production, uses the proceeds to support vulnerable women and children in her community. Tired of seeing women and children suffer, Uwibona, an enthusiast of gender equity and an anti-gender based violence activist, set out in 2017 to start a project that would support disabled women and women living with HIV/AIDS to make ends meet. “I started this business, yes I will call it business, to assist the women who could not afford basic things such as nutritional needs and public health insurance, among other things. “So, I just started thinking of what I could do to assist these vulnerable people, and since I didn’t have any funding or strong assistance from anyone, I thought about honey,” she says, explaining how her project came about. Uwibona started the honey business by buying from other people and cooperatives, but in order to ensure quality, she was able to save enough money to buy land in Kabuga, in Gasabo District, where she started her own apiary with a few beehives. “At the beginning I was buying from cooperatives, but I found out that it may not be the same quality as the one we have today from our own beehives,” recalls Uwibona. The 43-year-old, who is also the founder of Ubuntu Women Farmers Enterprise, used her culinary skills to come up with flavours to add to her honey, to make it different. “As a cook, because I’m a passionate cook, I started thinking of something that can attract people interested in their wellness, by making different flavours of honey. We already know honey is a product that helps us with our health. “The idea was to add more flavours that could boost health and wellness even more. I started with ginger honey first, that was in 2018 and coffee honey followed in 2019,” says Uwibona, adding that at this point she had seen an opportunity. Honey banana wine. Her vision was to make as much honey as possible to sell and use part of the proceeds to support the vulnerable women she was working with. As her products became popular, she introduced chocolate-flavoured honey for children and then added other flavours including moringa, garlic and sesame, particularly for people with a short memory. At this point, she was selling through women exhibitions and in hotels as well as deliveries, but when Covid-19 broke out, she thought of starting a small store, where people would find the much-loved honey products. That is how the Lemigo-based shop came about. Her honey became popular among people conscious about their health, as well as people with diabetes who don’t consume sugar, which is why she tries to make sure that the products are of high quality and 100 per cent organic. “My next project is not only to make sure that we gain from it, but also to export it as something that Rwanda can benefit from,” Uwibona says, adding that Rwanda still has an advantage of producing natural honey as the population of bees continues to dwindle in other parts of the world. Identifying women As the representative of the Rwanda National Council of Women in her Kamutwa cell in Kacyiru at the time, Uwibona was able to identify the first group of women, particularly those with disabilities or living with HIV/AIDS. At first, she had a gallery from where she trained them on skills development, but she also realised that they needed to eat and live better. Some of them had children and told her how much they were struggling. “They were telling me all the issues that they had and that they couldn’t go to the hospital because they didn’t have insurance, so I started this business just to help them. It turned out successful for everybody.” Organic honey flavours available at Ubuntu HoneyBee shop. Uwibona dedicates 10 per cent of the profits every month and tries to help them as much as she can. Supporting these women makes her very proud but there is much more to do to meet all their needs. “Disabled women and women living with HIV/AIDS are the two most vulnerable groups of women in our communities. I’m so proud of myself for the kind of difference I am making. “I’m also proud of the products which are really successful today,” says Uwibona, highlighting that they have also been able to save and buy their own land, where they carry out their beekeeping project. At the time when honey adulteration is becoming a common practice, Uwibona specialises in quality and keeping the products as organic as possible, and also making the packaging unique and outstanding. Though currently the packaging is still a challenge, she is looking for a solution because the branding and packaging is their niche. They also want to diversify the size and price, to make it affordable for all people. Considering that her products are popular with foreigners who visit the hotels, Uwibona makes sure that the products are of high quality, unlike most adulterated honey on the market, to avoid a situation where the reputation of the product and the hotel are on the line. “My target market is really to make more money for the most vulnerable people in our community that I’m helping, rather than thinking of funds and grants from elsewhere,” Uwibona says, adding that her other mission is to make Rwanda the source of the best honey exported abroad. A message to women As someone standing in the gap for fellow women who are vulnerable, Uwibona’s advice to African women is to come together and join forces to make a difference in their lives because they have what it takes. Uwibona says that normally they say women are jealous of each other but it is time such fallacies are demystified because history has proven that when women come together, they can achieve the impossible. “Work hard, put yourself together and support each other. This is what we need most because if we do not support each other, families will get scattered, the country will get scattered,” she says, adding that women are the pillar of humanity. Uwibona is also using her love for art to empower others by providing spaces where artists, including children, can sell their art and their products. She also buys art products and resells them as a way of supporting artists. Uwibona also helps women with organic products which are of high quality by giving them spaces in her shop to sell their products. In her shop you can find natural oils and other products made by women, which she sells and gives them the money. Apart from disabled women and women living with HIV/AIDS, Uwibona also supports small children living in precarious conditions, including those who were born with the virus.