Lesbian Vintners Do Good In Rwanda
Winery owners and environmental engineers Cindy Paulson and Deborah “Deb” Schatzlein of Bink Wines traveled to Rwanda this summer to learn about the African country’s water systems and help a local winery get its roots.
The couple traveled to Rwanda as part of a 10-day tour with Water for People, a global nonprofit organization run by engineers.
The Colorado-based organization partners with local governments and communities in Third World countries to build better systems to access clean and safe water. The engineers and government train the locals how to charge for water and maintain the system, Deb explains.
“They want to do for themselves. They just need the wherewithal,” says Deb, 54, who owns Bink Wines with her life partner of 22 years Cindy, 51.
Deb is now retired and focused entirely on the winery. Cindy continues to work as the senior vice president and a water resources engineer at Brown Cladwell.
Representatives of Rwanda invited the couple on the trip during a gala for WFP at San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences in May. The two women were specifically asked by Justus Kangwagye, the mayor of the Rulindo District in the north province of Rwanda, to tour winery owner Sina Gerard‘s vineyards, to assess them and provide advice as a part of the mostly agricultural country’s efforts to increase the value of its crops.
The Republic of Rwanda is perhaps best known for the genocide in 1994 where an estimated 800,000 people assumed to be Tutsi were killed. The Tutsi are one of the three ethnic groups – Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa – that make up the population. The violence began almost immediately after President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed when his plane was shot down on April 6, 1994. An estimated 200,000 individuals participated in the genocide that lasted for 100 days, according to the BBC and United Human Rights.
Nearly 20 years later Rwanda, a very rural African nation, continues to struggle to rebuild itself as a new democracy.
Deb told the Girls That Roamthat she was impressed by the Rwandans’ political system and the number of women in elected office. She was also grateful to learn about Rwanda and what the people had gone through along with the ingenuity and strength they displayed to move forward after the genocide and through poverty.
Cindy agreed, “The Rwandan people are resourceful. They know water is the foundation of life and the country as a whole is committed to it.”
An estimated 90 percent of the country is agricultural and about that percentage of the population is farmers.
Social responsibility has been a cornerstone of Bink Wines since the couple launched the winery a decade ago.
The women have consistently donated 10 percent or more toward causes close to their hearts, such as animal rights, the environmental, human rights, LGBT rights, and women’s issues.
“Water has been my passion,” says Cindy, who went on the trip as a representative of her company, which is also a major donor to the organization. Deb went on behalf of Bink Wines. Both companies sponsored the trip, says Cindy and Deb.
“Water is important and it’s actually going to be very important here in the U.S. and it’s going to be a bigger deal here in California,” adds Deb, concerned about how California continues to use “water faster than its being replenished.”
The women also shared their knowledge of grapes with vineyard owners, helping them connect with resources to improve winemaking.
A majority of Rwandans, as it turns out, are beer drinkers.
“[The winery owner] wants to bring wine to the local Rwandan people. He thinks that wine would be a good fit for them,” says Deb, who describes the visit as “one of the high points of the trip.”
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