“What we do here is not just about selling thrift store items and a place for people to donate stuff, we are changing lives, especially the lives of woman and children in Rwanda,” said Bimenyinama.
“Bon Marche, in French that means ‘Good market,’ or as people here in the States would say, good deal, a good bargain,” said Anna Bimenyinama, who has owned and operated the store for seven years.
No stranger to the retail market she had experience being an export shop owner and manager in Sonoma. “I was working 60 to 80 hours a week, she said and doing well.” Yet even with that success, Bimenyinama really wanted to focus on helping her loved ones in her homeland of Rwanda.
For the past three centuries, Rwanda has struggled for peace, stability and unity as it has suffered from political turmoil, colonization and genocide. Once a colony of Germany and then Belgium, Rwanda has managed to recover from the scars of so much conflict and turmoil. And, since 1994 has gradually built and maintained a stable government, officially known as the Republic of Rwanda.
A largely rural nation with lots of agriculture, Bimenyinama noted, “when I first arrived in Sonoma, I was taken in by Sonoma’s natural beauty. So much of it’s rural setting, the mountains, hills and cows reminds me of home in Rwanda.”
Traditionally, the population has always been close to the land. Yet even with a strong agricultural history and custom, malnutrition is still an obstacle to the health and wellbeing of the people.
As Julie Carney, co-founder and director of Gardens for Health International, explained, “Malnutrition, worldwide robs an estimated 170 million children of their health and future.” “Malnutrition is a contributing factor in over a third of all early childhood deaths in the sub-Saharan area of Africa.”
“In Rwanda, 44 percent of the child population under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. It is staggering,” she said. Bon Marche sends its proceeds to Gardens for Health International in the work of providing aid to health clinics and farms to help ensure a stable and healthy future for each Rwandan child.
“We currently work in eight partner health centers, reach over 960 families annually and reaching out to more than 4,800 children. Our aim is to restore their health and to stay healthy,” said Carney.
This humanitarian effort is close to her heart, something that Bimenyinama wants to support and help galvanize. She is grateful that Sonoma customers have been so generous with donation of clothes and other goods. “Look around, you can see Bon Marche has all sorts of items. We get things every day,” said Bimenyinama.
Bon Marche literally has merchandize lined up outside the door, waiting to be sorted, priced and displayed. “People here are can be very generous,” said Bimenyimana. Yet, she explained that while Bon Marche is doing well and expanding, “We also have to manage overhead costs and pay our employees a living wage.”
She laughed a bit when she said, “you know when I was making arrangements to open Bon Marche, the owner of the building did not think I would do any business. The owner initially insisted that I take one of the smaller spaces and reluctantly I took it. But within less than a year, I had outgrown that space and had to move to this spot.”
She explained that with all the sorting, cleaning and pricing of items, she will again very soon need another space with more square feet to accommodate the ever-expanding merchandise operations.
A bit of haggling is not uncommon. “I don’t mind working out a price for an item,” said Bimenyinama. “Like any retail shop, my aim is to move any and all merchandise. Yet, my mission for this endeavor is to raise money for Rwanda.”
In addition to helping the children of Rwanda, Bon Marche also helps fund micro loans to women in Rwanda. With the help of proceeds raised from sales at “My Girlfriend’s Closet,” a consignment shop in Sonoma, women in Rwanda have the opportunity to go into business for themselves and radically change the quality of their of lives.
Bon Marche, 19445 Riverside Dr. 933.9613. Bonmarchethriftstore.org