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Up Close & Indego

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Rwanda’s Inspiring Entrepreneurs | Genocide Remembrance Day 2016

#indegodiaries, #inspiring, #education, #leadership academy, #hope, #peace

Today, April 7th 2016, marks the 22nd commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, when more than 1,000,000 people were killed over the course of 100 days. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and all those who continue to grapple with the horrors that took place.

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In light of this day, we want to take a moment to reflect on and celebrate the incredible progress that Rwanda has made over the past two decades. Before the genocide, women in Rwanda did not have equal rights as men—they could not inherit land, open a bank account, or work outside the home without their husband’s permission.

However, when the genocide ended, Rwanda was 70% female—women were left to rebuild their country. They cared for children on their own and took in orphans; they paved roads and repaired buildings; they sowed fields and collected the harvest. They tried as best they could to piece their lives back together.

The new Rwandan government recognized that, in order to move their country forward, they needed to invest in policies that promoted the rights of women. Through their concerted efforts, and women-led activism movements across the country, Rwanda passed new laws to advance women’s rights and increase their participation in the workforce, as well as in government. Today, women make up 64% of Rwanda’s parliament—the highest representation in the world!

Even with these remarkable achievements, though, Rwanda still has a long way to go. To this day, more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, women are far less likely than men to have wage-paying jobs (when they do, they earn on average 50% less than men), and 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence.

In this landscape, our Leadership Academy—a six-month advanced business education program in Kigali, Rwanda—is helping women to move their country forward.

The Indego Africa Leadership Academy was founded in 2014 with a mission to empower the next generation of powerful female leaders, entrepreneurs, and businesswomen in Rwanda. The program focuses on teaching women advanced management skills that they can use to grow their own businesses, become entrepreneurs, and drive economic growth in their communities. {For more details, see here.}

The second class of our Leadership Academy graduated on January 14th, 2016 and we could not be more proud of their accomplishments! Of the 25 students, 52% started a new business; 12% expanded a pre-existing business; and the remaining 36% plan to start a new business in the near future.

Those who started new businesses hired 8 people and are now earning on average an additional 52,500 Rwandan Francs or $70 per month. These women are now not only better able to provide for themselves and their families but are also creating employment opportunities and economic growth in their communities—paying it forward and using their newfound knowledge and skills to uplift others along the way (how great is that?!)

As we look towards the future, we are so excited to introduce you to our third Leadership Academy class, which began the course on January 20th! We chatted with them to find out what they were most excited to learn and hear their thoughts on the importance of education for women in Rwanda, as well as their hopes for the future. Here’s what they had to say:

Beatha, Cocoki Cooperative

“I am so excited to learn about financial management, business plans, and how to work with banks. Once I find out, I’m going to create my own business plan and ask the bank for a loan.”

Celine, Ingenzi Knit Union

“I want to use what I learn at the Leadership Academy to improve my cooperative and empower other women. On a personal level, I plan to start saving, budgeting, and recording my expenses so that I can open my own business one day. I hope for all of us that we continue to live well and do the work that we love.”

Aisha, Covanya Cooperative

“Because women are the hearts of their families, my hope is that we will continue to develop ourselves and invest in our children, who will in turn contribute to the development of our country.”

Jacqueline, Imirasire Cooperative

“Education is important because it will help us  increase our confidence and be bold in all that we do.”

Josephine, Ibaba Cooperative

“I am excited to learn Word and Excel programs to improve financial records and communication at my cooperative.”

Liberatha, Ingenzi Knit Union

“Education is the foundation of community development. When you educate a woman, you give her the means and the power to educate her children, and that is an important thing.”

Judith, Ejo Hazaza Cooperative  

“My goal is to share the knowledge I receive with other women in the community and equip them with skills so that we can all start businesses and provide for our families. I hope that we will be able to eradicate poverty through  access to educational opportunities for all.” 

We are so inspired by these women and all they have set out to achieve. They have a powerful vision for their own and their country’s futures, and we have no doubt that—with the right tools and resources—they will achieve it. 

To help these aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders realize their dreams, click here.

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Remembering The Genocide

#community, #hope, #artisans, #inspiring

Today, April 7th 2015, marks the 21st commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, when more than 800,000 people were killed over the course of 100 days. Our hearts go out to the victims, their families, and all those who continue to grapple with the horrors that took place.

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We wish to recognize and honor our incredible artisan partners who, through their resilience and steadfast determination, are rebuilding their country. They have not forgotten the atrocities they saw or the loved ones they lost. At times, they may find themselves haunted or overwhelmed by the memories. Yet, despite the pain they continue to endure, they are determined to pave the way for a better future – to strive for reconciliation, forgiveness, and progress over bitterness, vengeance, and despair.

We have the utmost respect and admiration for these beautiful, brave women. What they have accomplished so far, and what they continue to achieve, is nothing short of amazing.

Today, we share the story of Esther – a powerful example of how far many of our artisan partners have come since 1994. Esther is a member of Abasangiye – a cooperative comprised of mothers of children born of rape during the genocide. She lost her husband and all four of her children in the genocide, and, like hundreds of thousands of women in Rwanda, was sexually assaulted and infected with HIV.

In the aftermath of the genocide, Esther was left distraught and alone. She began suffering from severe depression and for years struggled to leave her house or even get out of bed in the morning. She admits to having considered ending her own life. 

It was at one of her darkest moments that Esther came into contact with AVEGA (Association of Widows of Genocide) – a Rwandan nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and empowering genocide survivors. She began participating in therapy sessions through which she was able to come together and speak openly with other women who had had similar experiences as her own. Through these conversations, Esther began to overcome her trauma and gain the confidence she needed to put her life back together again.

Recognizing how life-changing therapy had been for her, Esther decided to become a counselor herself. She says:

 “I realized how important it is to have someone who listens to you. If I hadn’t found that, I don’t know if I would be alive today. Now, I advise other women who had some of the same problems that I did. I listen carefully to their stories and try to comfort them so that they too can feel like they have self-worth.”

 

Esther also says that being able to have a job and earn an income through her cooperative’s partnership with Indego Africa has been critical to her path to recovery. She says: 

“one thing that makes trauma worse is poverty. Getting up every morning and coming here to work on an order – that makes life worth living.”

Today, Esther is a self-assured and confident woman who radiates warmth and compassion. We are endlessly inspired by her and those like her who have not only overcome so much, but have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping others.

We celebrate our partners’ spirit of generosity, their care for one another, and their commitment to a better future. We wish for continued peace, progress, and prosperity for them and for all the generations of Rwandans to come.

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Immaculee

#spreadthanks, #artisans, #impact, #inspiring, #community, #hope, #peace

This November, we are taking a moment to pause and reflect on all of the things that we and our artisan partners are thankful for. We hope you'll join in! #spreadthanks

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Immaculee is one of the multitalented artisans of the Ibyishimo cooperative. A warm, kind, and inquisitive person, Immaculee exudes a quiet confidence that inspires those she meets. When she speaks, her eyes fill with a light that infuses everyone & everything around her, spreading joy & delight. 

While today Immaculee is deeply thankful for many of things in her life, her journey to find happiness was beset with painful obstacles to overcome.

When Immaculee was 12 years old, she lost her father, seven siblings, and more than 60 relatives during the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsis. When the violence ended, and the country reeled to reinstate the rhythms of everyday life, Immaculee struggled to cope with this devastating loss. For years she had trouble concentrating in school, particularly around the annual commemoration of the Genocide. She was shaken by every problem she faced, thinking about what her father would have done and yearning for his advice. Unable to manage the emotional stress and pressures of school, Immaculee dropped out.

Faced with the necessity of supporting herself, Immaculee packed her bags and left her hometown of Gitarama for Kigali. There she found a job at a bar where, as fate would have it, she met her husband {with whom she now has two children}. After her second child was born, Immaculee decided it was time to leave her job at the bar and seek another form of employment. Luckily for us, she was introduced to Ibyishimo through her church and quickly joined the ranks of its talented artisans mastering the art of sewing with ease (and today, friendship bracelet weaving and dreamcatcher making!)

These days, Immaculee tells us that she has much to be thankful for. She is thankful to live in a safe neighborhood and provide a good life for herself and her family. She is also thankful to have earned enough money working with Indego Africa to purchase a plot of land where she will begin to build a home next year. Most importantly, she is thankful for her family and for the feeling of harmony she has in her life.

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The Peace Basket

#artisans, #inspiring, #inspiration, #new, #weaving, #handmade, #community, #peace, #hope

We recently added traditional Rwandan peace baskets to our home decor collection. In addition to being unique and beautiful items, these baskets also have a poignant history that make them all the more special.

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Following the genocide in Rwanda, women were left to pick up the pieces of their shattered country. In order to provide for themselves, their families, and the countless orphans left in the destruction's wake, many banded together to form artisan cooperatives {like the incredible ones we partner with today}.

Women who had been caught on both sides of the country’s violence – both Hutus & Tutsis – came together to make traditional Rwandan baskets, which have since earned the title of “peace baskets.” By working and weaving together, these women were able to overcome their tragic pasts and foster peace, hope, and reconciliation in the face of enmity and despair.

To this day, peace baskets are a powerful symbol in Rwanda. They represent the generosity, compassion, and forgiveness that have helped this country to rise from its ashes towards a brighter future.

Shop Peace Baskets >>>

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