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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog #unhcr

Octavé’s Story

#unhcr, #indegodiaries, #artisans, #inspiring, #education, #community, #withrefugees

Every year, we celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women on International Women’s Day (March 8). This year, we’re dedicating the month of March to the stories of some of our inspiring artisan partners at the Mahama Refugee Camp!

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From conflict in Burundi to a crowded refugee camp in Rwanda, our partners at Akeza Cooperative have worked hard to overcome incredible challenges and create brighter futures for themselves and their families. We are continually moved by their resiliency and determination to succeed. These women define what it means to be empowered and we are honored to share their stories.

Octavé Muetiwabo

“I am an empowered woman because I can do things now that I couldn’t do before.”

When Octavé Mutetiwabo, 38, arrived at the Mahama Refugee Camp, she was anxious because it was difficult to get meals. She used to travel outside the camp to look for what she could to provide for her family. Sometimes she would till fields for local farmers to earn a little money, but it was never enough. As a result, she had to borrow food from her neighbors which made her feel ashamed. 

In Burundi, Octavé used to cultivate rice and manage her own shop for a living, but she knew many people who worked in artisan cooperatives. When she heard about Indego Africa’s Economic Inclusion for Refugees program, she joined because she already knew the importance of cooperatives as a vital source of income in communities back home. Octavé hoped to earn enough money to not only cover her, her husband, and her four children’s basic needs, but also invest in other businesses.

Octavé’s life since joining Akeza Cooperative has vastly improved. She is able to buy food for her family and charcoal for cooking. She can easily borrow money when she needs and works with her fellow cooperative members to continue improving her weaving and business skills. Octavé is happy now because gets to work with inspirational leaders and earn a steady source of income.

“The co-op has completely changed my life. We discuss and share everything. It is so sweet to be a part of a community like Akeza.”

Before joining Akeza, Octavé didn’t have any artisan training or confidence in her skills. Now she hopes to make a professional career out of weaving. The business training Indego provided has inspired Octavé to manage and invest her money. She enjoys networking with others at the camp because she is proud of her newfound knowledge and expertise. 

“I am proud of my life and skills. I am thankful because my world has changed for the better.” 

Octavé is excited to see what the future holds. She wants to continue learning and weaving because she knows how critical it is to have tangible, income-earning skills. Working at Akeza Cooperative has given her what she’s so desperately desired since first arriving at the camp in October 2015- peace of mind.

“I see education as a powerful tool. It’s important to me because it opened my mind and changed my life.”


International Women’s Day 2018 is an opportunity to transform momentum into action, to empower women in all settings, rural and urban, and celebrate the people and organizations that are working relentlessly to claim women’s rights and realize their full potential. Our Economic Inclusion for Refugees program is dedicated to doing just that.

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A Gallery Event in Support of Refugees

#inspiring, #unhcr, #impact, #indegodiaries

On Wednesday, July 19th, we stood #WithRefugees and celebrated our remarkable artisan partners with a Photography Showcase at Creative Chaos in Brooklyn!

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The gallery event that our creative team orchestrated spoke broadly to Indego’s long-term vision to empower women across Rwanda and Ghana through hard work, positivity, and teamwork. Our partnership with UNHCR working with artisans at the Mahama Refugee Camp, and the accompanying photography exhibit, are projects that we are passionate about.

With an unprecedented 22 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate throughout the world, our work at the Mahama Refugee Camp is more important than ever.

We are continually inspired by the resilience of our artisan partners across Africa, and are thrilled to share that beautiful inspiration with you! Shop our limited-edition collection of prints online now .

Read on to learn more about this photography project and Indego’s work #WithRefugees.

Last year, we launched an innovative partnership with the UNHCR to provide 50 women refugees from Burundi, now living at the Mahama Refugee Camp in neighboring Rwanda, with vocational and educational training. 

Our project at Mahama is focused on providing skills to and building opportunities for the women of the Akeza Cooperative. By employing these women in traditional craft and linking them to our market production, we are providing sustainable income-generating opportunities for female refugees and their families. We are looking beyond the camp and rooting their futures – and our wishes for their futures - in a combined skillset of craft + knowledge. 


This photography project stems from a commitment to positive representation. These photographs aim to portray refugee women in a way that reflects courage and optimism in the face of their current challenges. As present and serious as the issues and tensions are within a refugee camp, we wanted to showcase an alternative theme: hope for the future. Having been granted access to the camp for this photography project for only a few hours at a designated time and day, we could not wait for the best light, or the best season, or the best moment to capture the best image. But we, like these women, were hopeful. With a little searching, we were able to capture the inherent beauty underlying the rows of tents and dusty roads. 


Visually, the Mahama Camp is both breathtaking and overwhelming. A sea of white tents – temporary housing for new refugee arrivals – sits beneath a backdrop of mountains, perched above the clear water of the Akagera River on the border of Tanzania. Hundreds of refugees arrive daily, eeing violence and insecurity in Burundi amidst brewing political unrest. 

Many of these refugees have lost nearly everything. 

What they haven’t lost, they've left behind in search for a better future & a safer home. 

The decision to leave was not an easy one. Many had to leave family members behind who could not travel or refused to join. Although many have found more security in the camp, they continue to make unimaginable sacrifices.

They sleep without mattresses.

They cannot afford basic necessities beyond what the camp provides. 

Their children are constantly sick and suffering. 

Despite this, these women are full of grace. They’ve embraced the community we’ve helped them create. They are proud of the work they do. They have future goals – to return home to Burundi, purchase land together, and build a craft business there. Akeza, the name of their cooperative, and a name they selected themselves, means, “You Must Search to Find Beauty in Life.”


These photographs tell a story of solidarity, empowerment, and bright hope for the future. We believe these images show the peaceful power of women and the silent strength found in communities of women worldwide. We hope they allow you to gain some insight into these women’s lives and identities - not just as refugees, but also as craftspeople, mothers, friends, decision makers, and leaders. We selected these moments to share because they not only capture the beauty of these women, their group, and their camaraderie, but they also show these women’s search to search their own beauty and identities amidst an uncertain future. 

These women have faith in themselves.

These women have hope in each other.

These women have found strength in the community they’ve created.

These women have found solace in their work.

These women live their lives with warmth & color.

These women find joy in their lives & beauty in the face of strife.

These women look forward instead of backwards.

These women stand together because that makes them stronger. 

These women are more than refugees. 

Our hope is for these women to become self-reliant, whether in the camp or back in their homes in Burundi one day. Our work only scratches the surface of the community at the Mahama Refugee Camp - and for that matter, refugee camps worldwide - but we are proud of our success in transforming this small community within a greater one. 

All of us can create change with our hands and with our hearts but, like the women of Akeza, we need each other.

These women may have arrived at this camp emptyhanded, but we want them to return with their hands full - able to create change for themselves and their families. 

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