“When my husband, Eric, passed away two years ago, I used the skills that he taught me to create new products.” Francine cradled a smooth pottery piggy bank, complete with kitenge fabric ears and tail. Hers are the hands that create and shape a future for her and her four boys, as she compacts, moulds, and fires up around twenty candle clay holders, twenty aromatic diffusers, fifteen piggy banks, and twenty pottery votives per week.
She supplies these products for the Azizi Life boutiques in Muhanga and Kigali, as well as the Azizi Life Studio, where Kigali locals and tourists with a penchant for fair trade, high quality craft can paint their own pottery piggy banks – a popular activity for parents to do with their children.
Coming from a family of potters, Francine grew up with a basic knowledge of the craft, and when her late husband started working with Azizi Life, Francine picked up the skills to produce more intricate designs, breaking away from the standard clay stoves that she was accustomed to. Azizi Life began working with Francine by showing her sample designs, and Francine turned these basic ideas and brown lumps of clay into smooth, polished products.
“If I wasn’t doing this, I would be cultivating land, like most of my friends,” she said snipping away at a colourful piece of fabric. “I only have a small plot of land.” Agricultural work remains the mainstay of many rural livelihoods in Rwanda. “Because Azizi Life purchases my products, our basic needs are met.” Through the income she gets from the purchase of her products, Francine can afford school fees for her four boys, medical insurance for the family, and a more nutritious diet for them all. She hopes to buy a cow, which is a considerable investment in rural Rwandan society. She will be able to use the milk for her family and sell surplus milk for additional income. “I want to invest in my children’s education and to see them thrive.”
“When you are struggling in life, you need to change your attitude. Don’t focus on your problems, and don’t give up.”
Francine displayed her wares with pride, setting them out on a large table. In the future, she hopes to use her skills to train others. Already, she has trained the Abarikumwe Cooperative, a group of weavers in Muhanga district, who often host tourists on the Azizi Life Experience Days. There are plans to introduce a Pottery Experience Day, to add to the repertoire of traditional rural experiences available for visitors to participate in order to learn more about rural Rwandan life.
Francine twirled the scissors in her hand, their hard metal surface catching and reflecting the light from the sun. Devastated by the loss of her husband, Francine found hope in God, her family, and her friends, many of whom sing in the church choir with her. “I am happy when I sing,” she said. Singing and finding her place in community has helped her through incredibly tough times. “When you are struggling in life, you need to change your attitude. Don’t focus on your problems, and don’t give up.”