Basket Weaving in Rwanda: A Story of Resilience and Empowerment

A note from Azizi Life: We are honored to have Katrina Makuch as this month’s guest blog writer. Katrina’s path intersected with Azizi Life providentially right after we were founded in 2008. It is Katrina who modeled to our founders how to love artisans deeply and to respect them and the customers enough to strive toward a very high level of quality. Katrina and Rising International also brought Azizi Life’s first opportunity to send baskets from Rwanda to the US. We would not be who we are today without Katrina.
Enjoy her story!

I have a thing for baskets. I always have. My favorite souvenirs have always been some type of woven basket made by some women in the middle of nowhere. I guess my basket problem has come full circle now, as I find myself writing this blog about Rwandan women, their baskets and the journey that was started 15 years ago.

About an hour outside of Muhanga, on the road to Gisenyi, is a small town consisting of a cluster of mud brick houses and the country’s first meat packing facility. And another half hour past that, on the same road to Gisenyi, you will find a cluster of four mud brick buildings in the sector of Rugendabari. The last of these cheerfully painted, if only slightly dilapidated buildings, is the Zamuka Craft Cooperative’s office.

It’s 2007 and I’m here to conduct research and coordinate sales channels for Rising International, a Santa Cruz-based non-profit. I’m here to learn about the impacts of increased exports to reduce conflict.

Thirty three women cram into a 10×10 room and weave and weave and weave. What floor space that might exist between their bodies is covered by baskets in various stages of progress. And you know what? I love it.

Traveling with Tom from Food for the Hungry, Joseph my translator and the government official in charge of craft cooperatives in this sector. We arrive to a warm welcome of women working and weaving in this tiniest of offices. I’m literally climbing over sisal, baskets in various stages of completion, babies and ladies to get into the building. I have so many questions, it’s all I can do to keep from jumping right into the surveys I have been carrying with me from the US.

I speak briefly with a woman named Josephine. Josephine is 34 years old, and while she struggles to feed her own four daughters, after the genocide she adopted 4 orphaned boys. Yes, she is caring for 8 children and her husband, as he can’t find work. All these women find time to weave between managing their homes and tending their fields. For many, the only source of family income is from the occasional basket sale. And so once a week they meet in this little office to share their problems, find support and weave baskets.

I spend the next 6 months getting to know these women and learning about their lives. I learn that they are mothers or caregivers or widows, and that they are all struggling to make ends meet. I also learn that they are all incredibly resilient and resourceful. They have all found ways to survive in the face of incredible adversity.

I left the cooperative with a renewed sense of hope. I have seen firsthand the power of women to overcome adversity and build a better future for themselves and their families. I am inspired by their strength and determination, and I am committed to doing everything I can to help them succeed.

In the years that followed that first visit to Rwanda, I have had the incredible opportunity to continue to build on those friendships. We have shared so much of each other’s joys and sorrows over these past 15 years. We have lost members. We have celebrated births. I have seen firsthand the impact that economic empowerment can have on their lives. I have seen women lift themselves out of poverty, improve their health and education, and build a better future for their families.

I am proud to be a part of a movement that is helping African women to gain a more prosperous and peaceful future. I believe that when women are empowered, they can change the world. One basket at a time.

Celebrate teamwork and craftsmanship with our limited edition Rising Star woven bowls. 15 years of dedicated collaboration with the Artisans of Zamuka have brought these unique and beautiful creations to life. Don’t miss your chance to own one today!

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