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How this program is fighting youth underemployment in Rwanda

In Rwanda, only 8 percent of young adults go to college. College tuition fees are high and, for many struggling families and individuals, the need for immediate income often outweighs the potential long-term benefits of higher education. Many of Rwanda’s youth go straight from high school and into the workforce. Some go even earlier. When they do, they find themselves without job skills, searching for employment in an economy with few wage-earning jobs on the market. Where does this all lead? A debilitating 63 percent youth under-employment rate throughout the country.

originally posted on one.org

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These challenges are not unique to Rwanda. Countries across Sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to combat high youth un- and under-employment rates, with more than 70 percent of the region’s population under the age of 30.

Given the economic landscape for youth in Rwanda, and across Africa, there is a pressing need to equip young people—and especially young women, as they are less likely to be formally employed than men—with marketable skills to help them achieve sustainable livelihoods. So we at Indego Africa put our heads together and came up with an idea: to create a vocational training program designed to address this exact need!

How does it all work? Here’s the scoop: The program runs on six-month semesters with 45 participants per semester. Three days per week, these young people receive artisan vocational training at Indego Africa partner cooperatives—the artisan businesses responsible for the bright baskets, accessories and apparel you see on our website. There, they learn artisan craft-making techniques from sweetgrass basket weaving to sewing, beading, banana-leaf weaving and more.

The other two days out of the week, the program participants gather at a central space in Kigali (Rwanda’s capital) to take our Basic Business Training course, where they learn fundamental business skills such as bookkeeping, budgeting, quality control, marketing, and technology use for the workplace.

Programs like this, which empower youth to earn their own livelihoods, are critically needed in the communities we work with in Rwanda. While all of the participants in our Vocational Training program graduated from high school, none of them were able to continue on to college because their families could not afford the tuition. The majority now live with their parents (most of whom are also not formally employed) and scrape by on subsistence agriculture.

These circumstances leave young people in precarious and vulnerable situations, without means to provide for themselves or secure their own futures. As Clarisse, a program participant from the Kayonza Province of Eastern Rwanda, said: “[The Vocational Training] program is very important. Right now, it is very difficult for people who finish high school to find jobs—there are no wage-paying jobs, no office jobs. People who don’t get these opportunities are left behind. This program is helping us learn skills so that right after high school, we can earn income and start working.”

Clarisse’s enthusiasm for learning and working is echoed by all of our Vocational Training students. From day one of the program, they have hit the ground running, quickly mastering artisan skills and diving into the business training coursework. Some trainees have even begun to sell their own handmade products locally!

While access to vocational and business training can be life-changing for young people in Rwanda, it also has a wider impact on their cooperatives and communities. For example, most of the artisan cooperatives that we partner with are comprised of survivors of the 1994 genocide. As their members grow older, some cooperatives are starting to face challenges with their production capacity and are eager to train and incorporate younger women.

As Jacqueline, the president of Twiyubake Cooperative in Rwanda, said: “We’re struggling because some of our members are getting older and aren’t able to work as quickly. We are really excited to train these young women and bring a new generation into our cooperative. We believe that this will improve the way our business is run and keep it going far into the future.”

By training and employing young people, artisan cooperatives across Rwanda are able to ensure the longevity and sustainability of their businesses in the long-run. This, in turn, creates opportunities for younger women to rise up as leaders, grow their cooperatives, and help generate economic activity and employment opportunities in their communities.

Through hard work and determination, we have no doubt that these talented young women will, with time, begin to chip away at Rwanda’s youth underemployment problem.

#indegodiaries, #inspiration, #summer

A Day In Asbury Park

On a sunny Friday morning, we took a break from busy city life to spend a day at the beach in Asbury Park—the quirky New Jersey surf town known for its good food, live music, and A+ shoreline.

We brought some of our favorite warm-weather products with us—from pom pom hats to handwoven bags, patterned summer prints and more—and snapped pictures along the way, making stops at classic Asbury haunts like the Wonder Bar and Stone Pony (a favorite of New Jersey native, Bruce Springsteen.) 

Check out the sun-kissed pictures from our day at the beach below and get inspired for your own summer of color, style, and fun!

#funwithfriends, #inspiring

Fun With Friends # 5 – Rose & Fitzgerald

Four years ago, husband-and-wife duo Courtney Rose & Laren Fitzgerald moved from California to Uganda, where they began the creative adventure that has since become known as…Rose & Fitzgerald! Inspired by the beautiful raw materials and craftsmanship of Uganda and East Africa, Rose & Fitzgerald sells simple, elegant home décor & jewelry, which is handmade from start to finish by local artisans in their Kampala-based design studio.

We love Rose & Fitzgerald’s gorgeous products—from geometric wooden candle holders, to brass jewelry, woven baskets & more—that artfully blend the founders’ sense of coastal living with their love for the indigenous materials, beautiful landscapes, and master craftspeople of Uganda.

Now back in California, Courtney & Laren continue to design their rare goods from afar, with the intention of surrounding themselves and the world with beauty that makes us all feel more alive. We chatted with Rose & Fitzgerald co-founder, Courtney, to hear more about her journey and the amazing artisans that R & F is partnering with. Check out our interview below! (Spoiler alert: it’s super inspiring and may incite wanderlust.)

So, you’re from California and spent three years living in Uganda, where you started Rose & Fitzgerald. Tell us  more about that: how did the adventure that is R&F begin? 

Starting Rose & Fitzgerald was an adventure, indeed! My husband Laren and I moved to Uganda in 2012 for his career with Bridgeway Foundation, which had several projects happening in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We chose to move to Uganda’s bustling capital, Kampala, as it was central, stable and rapidly developing. Almost instantly after moving there, I fell in love with the richness of the colors and textures of handmade goods found at markets, and was really impressed with the methodologies for crafting them. I began working with local artisans to decorate our big, empty house – designing items mixing my coastal, modern design perspective with the timeless methods of these master craftsmen. All of the goods that came back as a result of our collaborations were stunning, and I knew this was the beginning of something much bigger. Starting a business that would sustainably employ these talented artisans to practice their craft became a dream. Rose & Fitzgerald is that dream realized. 

We love the way your jewelry & homewares truly showcase the beauty of Ugandan craftsmanship and raw materials through simple, elegant designs. What is your design process like and where do you get your inspiration?  

My goal since day one has been to design products drawing inspiration from their African origins, while still being relevant to a modern home. We want each of our products to hold deeper meaning than what meets the eye. This means that every aspect of how the products are made, what materials are used and where the materials come from, is of great importance to us. We limit our collection to the use of local materials, like Teak and Mugavu hardwoods, indigenous Ankole horn, pure brass, and raffia and bukedo (a type of palm leaf). Working with natural colors (shades of tan, brown, black, ivory and gold) and textures is endlessly inspiring to me, and when I design new goods, I always focus on cohesion among our offering, which usually results in clean lines, and geometric shapes and patterns. I am purposeful about creating goods that will add warmth, contrast and character to a space; goods that are completely unique, imperfect and one of a kind. Typically, I create a mood board for a new collection and then sketch out my own design concepts, which my husband patiently turns into digital spec sheets (alongside his own designs), which we then pass on to our artisan team for sampling. The artisans almost always add their own unique touch to each design, and we love that their artistry and talent shines through in the end result. All that said, our designs are certainly a team process.

We’d love to hear more about your design studio and the artisans you work with. What kinds of changes do you see taking place in their lives? 

Our design studio in Kampala is a space we poured a great deal of love and energy into. We wanted this workshop to feel unlike any in Uganda, so we focused on making the space feel creative and energetic. More than anything, we wanted our studio to give these incredibly talented artists a space to master a craft they have practiced for years. Many of the techniques they use are sadly dying out, due to large craft factories, so we’re doing everything we can to preserve their traditional artistry. In a world where many artisanal goods are produced in factories and sold through mass marketing campaigns, the Rose & Fitzgerald studio was created in hopes of giving people something truly unique. Currently, we have a team of 9 full-time Ugandan staff working there each weekday, which includes a metal smith team, a cow horn team and a production/quality control manager. Tea is taken each morning before starting work, and a healthy lunch is provided in the beautiful, large yard everyday. We introduced the “Friday happy hour” tradition, which of course, has been received very well. I think the stability our artisans have within their well-paid roles, along with working each day in such a creative, free environment, gives the artisans a great deal of joy and allows them to focus on perfecting their art.

Your motto, “seek the rare,” is awesome. Can you tell us what that means to you?

Living in Uganda together was perhaps the greatest adventure of our lives. It opened our eyes to a completely new part of the world, allowed us to travel to far away places in Africa that we’d never even heard of, and discover so much unique talent, skill and beauty among many cultures. Simply put, we felt like we were always seeking out rare experiences, and we really wanted this to become the motto for our lives and our company. We made it our passionate commitment to look toward the forgotten places—shedding light on over-looked talent and designing and creating rare goods from far away places. And now, we invite everyone else to seek the rare in their own lives, however that may look for them. 

Do you have any favorite Indego products? If so, which ones & why?

Yes! I love the Double Pin Shade Hat and the Cutout Beach Tote. We moved from Uganda back to California about nine months ago, and spend so many of our evenings and weekends at the beach with our Rhodesian Ridgeback. The hat feels so fresh for summer and protects me from the sun, and the tote is the perfect carryall for things like sunscreen, a soft blanket and a good book. I know it will come in handy in a few months when our baby boy is here, and we have lots of baby gear to tote down to the beach as well! Both of these items feel so natural and simple while still being feminine and stylish. And of course, I absolutely love that they are handcrafted in Africa, empowering women to care for themselves and their families. 

To learn more about Rose & Fitzgerald, visit http://www.roseandfitzgerald.com/

#funwithfriends, #indegodiaries, #inspiration, #indegokids

Chloe Fleury Goes Indego

Our favorite illustrator, paper artist, prop stylist & mama of two, Chloe Fleury, did the cutest (and most colorful!) photoshoot featuring our print-happy baby clothes and her whimsical paper art collections.

We love the way Chloe creates bright, magical worlds out of paper, creating inspiring spaces for kids and grown-ups alike. Scroll down to see the photoshoot and learn more about our partnership with Chloe here.   

#ghana, #artisans, #community, #indegodiaries

Rad Dads

It’s almost Father’s Day in the U.S., and we’re excited to give a special shout-out to some of our newest artisan partners: the 65 men of the Ahwiaa Woodcarvers Association in Ghana!

While Indego Africa is known for working with women in Africa, some of our newest artisan partner groups in Ghana are made up of men (more on that here). While supporting women remains the core of our mission, we are also excited to work with these talented male artisans and to help them grow their own businesses and better provide for themselves and their families. So for Father’s Day this year, we thought we’d introduce you to some of these rad dads and the awesome artisan techniques they’re working with.

Woodcarving is a time-honored craft in Ghana with a rich cultural history (more on the myths & meanings behind it here). Legend has it that in olden times a man named Akwasi Yoyo traveled to the Ashanti kingdom of Denkyira, where he learned the craft of woodcarving. After mastering these skills, he brought his finished carvings back to his hometown (which today is called “Ahwiaa”) and showed them to the King. The King was so impressed that he instructed the entire village to learn and practice the art form. Since then, this beautiful craft has been passed down from family to family, generation to generation. 

The Ahwiaa Wood Carvers Association carries on this legacy by continuing the practice of traditional wood-carving today, creating beautiful handmade products ranging from Ashanti warrior masks, to traditional fertility dolls, beaded stools, and more.

The handmade process all starts with—you guessed it!—wood. The carvers source wood from a nearby forest and work with a range of locally-grown trees, including cedar, tweneboa, mahogany, teak, and pawpaw. To create the intricately detailed wooden objects you see on our site, the artisans start by sketching their designs directly onto the wood and then carving out the desired shape with a hacking knife. They then switch to a smaller, more refined knife to shave the piece down and carve out fine details.

After sanding and polishing, the artisans add finishing touches and design elements to each product ranging from wood stains, to brightly colored paint, delicate beads, cowrie shells and more! The final results? Unique, handcrafted products that showcase Ghana’s beautiful raw materials, rich cultural histories, and impeccable craftsmanship.

For the artisans of the Ahwiaa Woodcarvers Association, woodcarving is not only a lifelong art form, but also a source of livelihood. As many of these craftsmen are dads, we chatted a few of them to hear more about what fatherhood means to them and why they come into work everyday. Here’s what they shared with us:

“Being a father is a difficult but important task. Sometimes when we wake up in the  morning, I have nothing in my pocket. All I want is to be able to provide for my family. I want to be able to give my children what they need in life to help them be successful and become good leaders in the future. It’s what every father wants.” – Adom Gyamfi

 

“I love it when my children welcome me and come to meet me when I return from work. It makes me happy to answer all their curious questions. I feel so proud when I hear good reports about my daughter from school. She is well known and applauded for her good conduct and her passion for keeping the school clean.” – Yaw Antwi.

 

We are so excited to support these artisans as they seek to support and enrich their families! To all the rad dads in Ghana and around the world, we wish you a very happy Father’s Day!

To shop products handmade by the artisans of the Ahwiaa Wood Carvers Association, click here.  

#collaboration, #indegodiaries

AAKS x Indego Africa: An Interview with Akosua

We are so excited to announce our partnership with Ghana-based sustainable accessories brand, AAKS! Founded by Ghanaian designer Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, AAKS is known for its brightly colored, handwoven raffia bags that celebrate the ancestral weaving of northern Ghana, while adding modern design elements and details (like leather straps and tassels.)

Akosua created AAKS with the dual goal of introducing the world to her favorite weaving techniques, practiced by the women of Ghana, while also creating and igniting sustainable jobs within Africa. We were so excited to collaborate with AAKS (our first Ghana-based partnership!) both for its amazing design aesthetic and craftsmanship and its admirable social mission.

Our AAKS x Indego Africa collection features three beautifully textured and richly saturated navy and black handbags—a tote, a clutch, and a crossbody bag—all handwoven by AAKS’ artisan partners in Ghana (and accented with fun leather details!) We chatted with Akosua to hear more about her background and inspiration, and to find out what’s up next for her growing accessories brand. Read on for more.

You grew up in Ghana and also spent time living and studying in London. Can you tell us a little bit about why it was important to you to return to Ghana & support women there? 

Ghana is my home, a beautiful expanse of land, people and culture. It's also where my family lives and a place I am very fond of. I couldn’t have imagined relocating anywhere else. My main aim of studies in the UK was to broaden my mind in my field, gain a wealth of experience and finally come back to Ghana to support the creative art and design industry and build a luxury African brand.

This happened quickly after seeing a gap in the market for beautifully handcrafted luxury bags that would utilise locally sourced materials such as raffia coupled with the traditional art of weaving, I knew I had something great to work towards and made the big move to fulfill my ultimate dream of owning my own fashion brand and igniting sustainable jobs in Ghana and Africa as a whole.

We absolutely love your bags—the natural raw materials, bright colors, and modern aesthetics. What are some of your biggest sources of inspiration?

Thank you! My biggest inspiration is everything around me. I am very inspired by the contrasting painted shacks in Ghana. The colour ways do not always work on paper but they work on the shacks and it’s beautiful. Looking around me really helps broaden my perspective on my surroundings. 

Why were you excited to work with Indego Africa?

I have always wanted to work with a company that had a similar brand ethos as AAKS and Indego Africa is the perfect company for me. I love all that it stands for and it’s also where I see my brand in the next couple of years. 

What is coming up this summer for AAKS? 

I have the most fantastic opportunity through the Design Network Africa to visit Paris and showcase my work at Maison Objet this September and I am also now hosting my very first pop up store/exhibition in Accra, Ghana which I am very excited about. Our online store which we launched a couple of months ago now caters to a global audience and we are happy to focus on growing the brand locally and internationally this year by introducing new lines and ideas.

What is your must do/see/experience travel advice for anyone going to Ghana?

My must-do in Ghana is to visit Cape Coast’s coastal beaches and to go on the adrenaline rush canopy walk through the Kakum Forest! 

What product - besides our collab bags! - is your favorite Indego product and why?

I adore the children wear and embroidery products Indego Africa makes. They are so beautiful.

To shop our Indego Africa x AAKS collection, click here

We LOVE Reformation

We (along with just about everyone else on the planet these days) are obsessed with the eco-friendly, cool-girl-approved fashion label, Reformation. While best known for its effortlessly feminine dresses, tops and jumpsuits, Reformation recently added an accessories line to its collection featuring carefully-selected hats, bags, and shoes made by a range of sustainable fashion brands, including…yours truly!

We are so excited to have some of our newest handmade summer accessories—like our Pom Pom Palm Tote, Woven Hat, and Banana Leaf Beach Bag—featured on Reformation, a brand we <3 (and seriously admire) for its commitment to environmental sustainability and super cool style. Its tagline, “we make killer clothes that don’t kill the environment,” really says it all.

Most of Reformation’s limited-edition, small-batch collections are made in its factory in downtown L.A., using recycled, repurposed, or vintage materials. Every product—from flowy summer dresses to coveted crop sets—comes with a “RefScale” that allows you track the item’s environmental footprint from its very first thread all the way to your closet.

Reformation wants you to know exactly what goes into making the clothes you love—from the carbon dioxide emitted to the gallons of water used. In making this information public—and shedding light on the often environmentally hazardous (and socially harmful) materials, methods, and practices used in conventional manufacturing—Reformation seeks to revolutionize the fashion industry and help consumers around the world make informed, conscientious decisions about the clothes they buy. 

We are thrilled to partner with a company whose values and do-good mission are so well-aligned with our own AND whose clothes we mega-love (seriously—we’ll  take one of everything, please.) When it comes to doing good and looking good, they’ve got you covered. We’re definitely ready to #jointhereformation—are you? 

To shop our summer accessories—made with love from natural raw materials in Rwanda—head to Reformation or visit our shop site

#zine, #inspiring, #impact, #indegodiaries

Indego Africa Zine Issue One: Spring 2016

Introducing Issue One of the Indego Africa Zine—a brand-new publication bringing you a behind-the-scenes look into our world of impact, design, education, and collaboration in Rwanda and Ghana!

#indegodiaries, #inspiration, #summer

A Day at The Beach in Accra

We are summer-loving folks here at Indego Africa, and we recently spent a sun-soaked day at the beach in Accra, Ghana taking in the country's magical coastline

Walking down the shore, we couldn't get enough of the bright pastel homes, breezy palm trees, and beautiful waves we spotted along the way. We snapped some pictures to share with you and get you inspired for summer too! Cheers to a summer of color, surf and sun.