By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
WAGONER — Rwandan hotel owner Anne Marie Kantengwa snaps pictures of steel preparation tables, paper towel dispensers, chefs — nearly everything in The Canebrake kitchen.
She has a lot to learn during her stay at this resort east of Wagoner. She also has a lot to pass on to other businesswomen in her country.
Kantengwa is visiting Oklahoma through Peace Through Business, an initiative of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women.
The program seeks to inspire women around the world to grow their businesses and become more active in public policy. Kantengwa has been at The Canebrake since Saturday.
“When I came to the U.S.A., my wish was to connect with people and to let people know about my hotel,” said Kantengwa, the chief executive officer of the Chez Lando Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. “Even with a tragic history, we are a beautiful country.”
Rwanda was the scene of a civil war during the 1990s between the country’s Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, culminating in genocide in 1994, according to the CIA Factbook. The country had local elections in 1999 and national elections in 2003.
The Chez Lando, built in 1986, was destroyed during the genocide but has been rebuilt, said Kantengwa, who has operated the hotel since 1996.
Lisa Bracken, an owner of The Canebrake, said, “If you look at the hotel’s website, it’s just beautiful.”
Kantengwa added: “It stays open and has just been expanding. We are a family business, and our accommodations are 82 rooms.”
Kantengwa said she has learned a lot about American hospitality and business during her first few days at The Canebrake.
“The owners here are very committed,” she said. “My expectation from this is to bring back the good friendliness at The Canebrake and new friends for the Hotel Chez Lando. This helps me to have more ambition.”
Kantengwa has had a busy week. Saturday night, she was an “expediter” in the kitchen, making sure every plate is perfectly prepared, Bracken said.
She spent Sunday working the front desk and Monday visiting Tulsa and taking yoga lessons at The Canebrake’s Yoga Barn. She spent Tuesday morning in Muskogee, even visiting Walmart, and working in the kitchen in the afternoon.
Peace Through Business includes one week of mentoring or shadowing at an American business. When the women return to their country, they are to pass what they learn on to other women, according to a website by the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women.
“I have been inspired to join the program,” Kantengwa said. “It could help future generations of women in this country.”
Bracken said she was learning a lot about Rwanda during Kantengwa’s visit, including that “after genocide, Rwanda was 70 percent women.”
She said she also learned “that I really want to go to Rwanda.”
Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.