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!
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.
“Empowerment means having the skills to build a positive future.”
In April 2016, Francine Mukandanga, 25, and her mother escaped Burundi with hope for a new life in Rwanda. But when they arrived at the Mahama Refugee Camp, they felt discouraged. Francine had no idea what her future would look like in such a new, crowded place. She and her mother were hopeless and hungry, going many nights without eating. She thought, “I fled the war of bullets but now I face the battle of life!”
But Francine’s life did change. With nothing else to do and a disability making it difficult to perform other kinds of physical labor for income, Francine began weaving products at the camp and giving them away to people for free. She couldn’t sell her goods without a market. That’s when a few women from Akeza Cooperative advised her to join their business.
Within one week of participating in Indego Africa’s Economic Inclusion for Refugees program, Francine was fulfilling her first purchase order and outperforming many of her fellow cooperative members. The generosity and inclusivity of the women of Akeza did not go unnoticed by UNHCR, which has since encouraged other groups at the camp to take Indego’s lead and partner with refugees living with disabilities.
“My life is stable today. It is very encouraging to have a job and steady orders to work on!”
Earning income isn’t the only positive result to come from Francine’s work at the cooperative. Her confidence has increased which has helped her bond with more people at the camp. She feels happy and included by others which she hasn’t always felt in the past.
“I love the teamwork, courage, and spirit of the cooperative. Being welcomed by society and having friends gives me hope and strength.”
Since working with Indego Africa, Francine has earned enough money to support herself and her mother. She feels like a “very confident” businesswoman who is eager to continue her education.
“Learning how to save and be thrifty with my money has been important. I learned a lot about business which was something I didn’t know before.”
As a cooperative, Akeza saves 10% of the income it earns from completing orders and distributes the other 90% equally among members. Francine saves a little bit of this income each day and only spends it when she needs to buy extra meals for her mother. Why? She’s excited about the day she’ll have enough money saved to open her very own artisan shop back homein Burundi.
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.