Clay in the Potter’s Hand: Artisan Francine’s Story

Interview by Natalie Imanishimwe 

“My name is Francine Mukamabano. I was born in 1983. I am a potter. I live with my four sons and three of us are potters. I create different clay products including candle plates, candle pots and vases, oil diffusers, and piggy banks. I love everything I make but mostly I love the piggy banks. When people look at a piggy bank they find it funny but also amazing. Kids mostly love it and that’s why I love it. I [even] have one for my personal use.

Francine’s clay piggy banks

I was among the very first people that Azizi Life started working with. Back then, I was still working hand in hand with my husband and I was part of a cooperative called Twisungane. Unfortunately, the cooperative split up, but that didn’t stop me from working. I continued working along with my three sons who are now helping me a lot.

Child enjoying her new piggy bank

At first, I used to work and stay home. I didn’t leave my home a lot. My husband delivered all the products, and I didn’t know much about delivering products. Life changed for all of us when my husband fell sick, and I had to look after him and our sons. After my husband’s death in 2016, it was a difficult time. My sons had a hard time accepting the loss of their father, same as me. It was not easy having to provide for my family all of a sudden. Raising four boys is not an easy job. They started rebelling – they would go to school and after school go out and come home very late. It was not easy as they were not listening to me.

Pottery Experience Day guests and artisans molding clay together

Then I remembered how my mother raised me, my siblings, and my cousins alone while my father was in jail. We were three families living under the same roof: my family and my cousins from my two uncles who had died. My mother was a disciplined woman and she raised us all well even if she had to make some difficult decisions. I looked to my mother as an example in life. When my father was sent to jail, he left my mother with very young twins and that’s when my big sister and I had to stop school to help our mother raise them. My sister would keep the older twin and I would look after the youngest so that our mother would go work in the fields. My mother was strict and serious raising us four along with my cousins who had to come and live with us after the death of their parents. I said to myself, ‘How can I fail to raise four children?’ Back then my sons were starting to come home around 8 or 9 PM. I alone had to fulfill all my orders, deliver the products, and make sure that my sons were also cared for.

Artisan beginning to mold the piggy bank

I sat down with my sons and told them that whoever does not get home by 6 PM should spend the night where they are and come home the next day and explain to me where they spent the night. I told them that I couldn’t sleep without knowing where my children were. One time when they got home late, they found me waiting for them at the door with a stick in my hand. I told them that since they are refusing to respect my hours to come home, we are going to use force. I told them to choose the strongest among them; give him a stick also so that he can confront me, and whoever wins we would follow his or her rules since they have refused to obey my rules. They got scared and couldn’t fight me, then they apologized for everything and asked for forgiveness. I sat down with my sons and discussed with them about their interest in helping me with my work. I was really surprised at the three older ones immediately agreeing to help. They told me, ‘Mom, we are going to help you with everything at home.’ They started coming home early and started helping out with different activities at home.

Firing the clay

As for my older son (born in 2004; from my husband’s previous marriage), when he comes from school he asks if there is anything he can help me with such as fetching water, cooking, and any other small thing. Now my sons love helping me. They know that if I have an order to complete, they can help me with it. They are now able to start on products and I do the final touches. Since school in Rwanda is done in shifts, if one is going to school in the morning, another one goes in the afternoon. That way, they can go to school and help me with work.

From the money I earn from my work, I am now learning how to invest in husbandry animals and to save money. I was also able to buy solar lights so that my sons can study and do their homework in the evenings. Even if I didn’t get a chance to go to school, I know how important it is to study, and I tell my sons that.

am very grateful to God for the gift he gave me of being able to use my hands to work and make a living from my work. In crafts, as well as pottery, it’s about what you can make with your hands. Pottery is all about using your hands and your brain. Creating something with your hands from clay is really not an easy job –  making sure that what you are making reflects what the customer wants and also making sure that it looks identical every time can be very hard.

I am not saying that it doesn’t bother me at all that I didn’t go to school; it is not a good thing, but it doesn’t stop me from working, supporting my family and feeling proud of myself. I am proud to use my hands to provide for my family, I am able to send my children to school and give them most of the things they need. Being a widow is hard but with time you find ways to take care of your family.

I also had to learn from my country’s history where many people found themselves widowed all of the sudden and it didn’t stop them from living. I am inspired by all of those courageous women and men. I have learned from them and now I am moving forward with my four sons. With our pottery work we are creating a better future for us.”

Visitors on a Pottery Experience Day

Honor Francine’s story by sharing this post! To book a Pottery Experience Day in Rwanda, click here.

Read more about Francine in a blog post by Azizi Life Content Writer Emma Lawson.

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