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Bananas for Banana Leaf: Empowering Youth Through Banana-Leaf-Weaving

Twiyubake, which means “to rebuild ourselves” in the Kinyarwanda language, is an artisan cooperative made up of 27 women in the Kayonza province of Eastern Rwanda. An Indego Africa partner since 2008, Twiyubake specializes in the art of banana leaf weaving—making rustically beautiful handcrafted products using locally grown leaves (that they often pick themselves!)

While we’ve been big fans of Twiyubake’s work since day one, it took a while for their products to catch on (and we sometimes struggled to get them enough orders because of it.) But that all changed last year when we launched our SS ’16 collection featuring beautiful summer beach bags & floor baskets) handmade by the ladies of Twiyubake! All of a sudden, orders began to pour in, and the artisans of Twiyubake found themselves so busy they could hardly keep up. 

That’s where our Vocational Training students came in. You might remember that earlier this year we launched a Vocational Training program for female youth in Rwanda. The idea? Help young, unemployed women in Rwanda enter the workforce and earn sustainable income by training them in artisan skills and business management.

This semester of the program, there are nine young women training at Twiyubake Cooperative, all of whom were recruited (with the help of Twiyubake members!) from the surrounding Kayonza community. While none of these girls had previous artisan experience, they caught onto the craft of banana-leaf-weaving right away. They’re already working quickly to help Twiyubake meet their deadlines and even creating new products of their own! 

It’s been an exciting  experience for the Twiyubake leaders—President, Jacqueline Musabimana and Treasurer, Marie Josee Mukobwa—to train and mentor the younger women. As Jacqueline said:

“It’s good for me to learn how to manage people from different backgrounds and from different generations.  Before, I didn’t have experience in training young girls, only other women. The girls all work at different speeds, but I’m trying to get them to the same  level. I’m also teaching them discipline. I tell them: ‘I didn’t go to secondary school, but now, I’m the President of Twiyubake, and Indego Africa has trusted me to be your teacher. You, you have a diploma. You went to  secondary school. Think about how much you can achieve—you just have to work hard and focus.”

We also spoke with some of the young women to hear their thoughts on our Vocational Training program and on working at Twiyubake. Clarisse, one of the trainees, told us: 

“This 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.”

Here, Clarisse touches on one of the main reasons we launched the Vocational Training program in the first place—Rwanda’s steep 63% youth underemployment rate. The trainees at Twiyubake describe dire circumstances in their communities—there are few, if any, jobs available for young women, leaving most to survive off of subsistence agriculture. Our Vocational Training is an opportunity for them to build marketable skills and establish a career path that will last them into the future. 

This program is also a great opportunity for our partner cooperatives themselves to gain new, younger members. As Jacqueline 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 young women and integrating them into their cooperatives, Twiyubake and other artisan businesses across Rwanda are helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of their enterprises as sources of income generation, employment, and artisan creativity for generations to come. 

Further, as young women graduate from our business training programs and improve their artisanal skills, they are building the skills to become future leaders, business-owners, and change-makers.

And guess what?! Through May 31st, we are running a special 30% off  summer accessories sale, featuring Twiyubake’s beautiful banana leaf beach bags! To shop, use code WEEKENDWIN at checkout