The Belgian Model Details Her Trip to Africa and Jewelry Collaboration to Benefit Kageno
Since her first trip in 2010, Belgian model Anouck Lepere has visited the isolated village of Banda in southwest Rwanda three times to volunteer with Kageno, a charitable organization founded in 2003 to transform impoverished communities into places of opportunity. NOWNESS commissioned Dutch photographer Dana Lixenberg to document Lepere's latest visit in January, in which she joined forces with the women of the village for a collaboration with Repossi, the Paris-based Italian fine jewelry house. Woven with aloe threads, banana leaf and other local plants, the necklaces and bracelets created in Banda will be ornamented with silver and gold locks and chains in Paris and then sold by Colette, with all proceeds going to Kageno. “When I tell people that I went to Rwanda their minds are still in 1994, but it’s 17 years on; the scars are there but you don’t notice them immediately,” says Lixenberg, who shoots with a large format camera. “It’s almost so beautiful that it’s hard to capture,” she adds of the rainforest-adjacent village of Banda. Lepere kept a diary of her sub-Saharan adventure, which we excerpt below.
Saturday, January 29
It was a much more light-hearted start than that of my last trip in April, which took place during the genocide remembrance––[an occasion where] everybody sits together for several hours each day to talk about the tragic events. Upon my arrival at the Gorilla Hotel in Kigali I noticed a party in the tropical garden, which the manager then invited me to join. I ended up in a circle dance with the group and met Rwanda’s minster of communication, who had studied in Belgium.
Sunday, January 30
I spend Sunday walking the quiet, manicured streets of Kigali, shopping and preparing for my trip to Banda. A statue on a roundabout near the parliament depicts a woman holding hands with a boy, a symbol of the law that states 50 percent of the government must be made up of females.
Monday, January 31
I set off for Banda; it's a four-hour bus ride to the remote village, which is located in the Nyungwe Forest in the southwest of Rwanda. I get the feeling I'm one of the only tourists to have taken the bus in a long time.
Tuesday, February 1
I love waking up to birds chirping. There’s no electricity, running water or cars in the village and it feels very relaxing.
Wednesday, February 2
I finally sit down with the weaving group. It was the first time they were working together on the jewelry project so we begin to determine how it will come together. The group is half teenagers and half older women. Men don't want to seem to want to do the job yet, but I'm trying! We split into small groups to work on individual pieces—I switch them around to prompt new ideas but also try to put friends together so they are happy to come to work the next day. The women love it.
Thursday, February 3
The local elections were held today; everybody in the village has to form a line behind the person they wish to elect. The first restaurant in Banda has just opened and we go for lunch with several American Peace Corps volunteers. It’s called Chez James and serves their local, mainly vegetarian cooking. The plates are filled with vegetables and salads and lots of red beans, a popular source of protein here.
Sunday, February 6
Everyone puts on their best outfits to go to church. They're so colorful and creative—from a collar made with flower petals to a cute headpiece styled into rabbit ears.
Monday, February 7
Returning to Kigali, Dana and I do a talk at the university about photography and fashion and how to earn money in those industries. Everybody was excited to see Dana’s 5 x 4 camera as it was the first time they had seen one in their lives.