« One man's trash is another man's treasure, but for Bimenyimana, those trashed treasures are angels in disguise. By Kate Williams.

Anna Bimenyimana, owner of Bon Marche thrift store on Riverside Drive, opened her thrift store 12 years ago with a clear mission: to turn antiques into activism for her country of origin. In the world of old things, it's said that one man's trash is another man's treasure, but for Bimenyimana, those trashed treasures are angels in disguise.

Through a nonprofit funded by her shop’s sales and donations, Bimenyimana fights chronic malnutrition and starvation in Rwanda. By funding health clinics and garden projects there, she is making a difference for a population still recovering from civil war and its tribulations.

Next week, Bimenyimana will be featured in the Emmy-nominated “Seeing Brave,” a documentary focused on international philanthropy airing Monday, Jan. 21 through 28 on freeheartcreative.com.

The war in Rwandan began in 1990, culminating in 1994 with the near extermination of the ethnic Tutsi population. Following the assassination of the Rwandan President in 1994, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsi’s were killed by militant Hutus over a 100-day period, before the Hutus lost control of the conflict and were exiled to Zaire. The genocide was portrayed in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” a historical drama that earned three Oscar nominations.

Despite eventual resolution of the conflict, the road back for Rwanda has been long. But Bimenyimana, whose own mother was once on a Hutu death list, believes in her people. Ethnic divisions between Tutsis and Hutus are discouraged now. “We don’t say Tutsi or Hutu anymore. We are all Rwandans now,” Bimenyimana said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We are rising now from the fire, and nothing is going to stop it.” 

« Seeing Brave » tells the story of three women of conscience, told in rich visuals with moving narratives. Alongside two other women whose philanthropic efforts are focused on Syria and Kenya, Bimenyimana anchors the tryptic with her work in Rwanda.

« I can see things to pass on to my country through gardening and farming, » Bimenyimana said. « That’s humanity to me. »

According to Bimenyimana, since its inception in 2006, Bon Marche has raised $400,000 to do its charitable work. Customers are invited to « shop for solutions on the store’s website, » where their purchases support « families in two countries 9,400 miles apart. »

« Because of you, we can fight chronic malnutrition and starvation in Rwanda, while providing our neediest children in Sonoma with clothing and the things that make their house a home, » the website proclaims.

Bimenyimana told the Index-Tribune that three years ago, in addition to funding programs through Gardens for Health International in Rwanda, her nonprofit began a program to help local homeless individuals and families.

Katie Wilkes, co-founder of Freeheart Creative, and partner Dana Michelle Cook, traveled to both Sonoma and Rwanda to film Bimenyimana at work. « Anna’s courageous heart is felt in everything that she touches, from the local items in her store to the thousands of families we saw her impacting across the world, » Wilkes said. » She has transformed hardship into love. It was an easy decision for us to feature her in « Seeing Brave. »

« She makes everyone feel like family, including our team, » Cook added. « We were welcomed into her home to share a traditional Rwandan meal while we were filming, feeling connected to her story firsthand. Her spirit really is contagious. »

Bimenyimana, who carries the hard won lessons of civil war with her, is determined to use her life to fullest advantage. « Every day, wake up with purpose in life, » she said. « Don’t be afraid to shine. »