Today, we celebrate and honor refugees around the world. Make a recurring monthly gift to help empower the refugee artisans of Akeza and Umuco Cooperatives.
In the fall of 2016, Indego Africa launched a pilot project in collaboration with UNHCR to provide vocational and business training to a group of 50 Burundian refugees who have since banded together to form their own cooperative, Akeza.
Today, our Economic Inclusion for Refugees program is providing 100+ female refugees at the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda with artisan skills, business training, and market access. Indego is helping them bring their products to market so they can achieve long-term economic security for themselves and their families.
This World Refugee Day, we are honored to share the story of Spès Kaneza, the president of Indego’s newest partner cooperative at Mahama- Umuco.
Before the war, my life in Burundi was very good. I had my own boutique and a lot of things to sell like women’s clothes, maize flour, and sorghum flour. But because of the violence in Burundi, my family and I had to flee the country. I knew people who had been killed in nearby villages, so I left my own village before the war arrived and arrived at Mahama on August 3rd, 2015 with my husband and four children.
Before participating in Indego’s Economic Inclusion for Refugees program, life in the camp was bad. I was lonely and had no hope for the future. I brought personal possessions like clothes from Burundi to sell in the camp because I had no other way to earn income. After I sold through everything, life was really difficult.
I wanted to participate in Indego’s program to fight against the loneliness I was feeling - that was my number one ambition. I wanted to regain hope for the future, make friends, and learn from others. Once I started partnering with Indego, my livelihood improved. I feel like I have a new family with the women in my cooperative.
Now that I’m a member of Umuco Cooperative, life is very good. Before I joined Umuco, I couldn’t meet my basic needs like purchasing enough food for my family. The food we get from the camp is almost never enough. Now I earn enough money to purchase extra food.
What I like most about working in a cooperative is working with other women to run a business. We support each other and talk a lot about how we can develop our cooperative which is something difficult to do alone. It’s important to give and receive feedback about the business from other members. I also like working at Umuco because if I have personal issues or financial troubles I can borrow from the cooperative and pay it back with interest over time. It makes everyone feel good about the community we have built. Everyone in Umuco has the means to live well now!
The number one skill I’ve learned is how to live well with others and avoid conflict. This is a skill I had to learn at the camp to survive.
The second skill I learned was how to use banana leaf in creative ways. Before partnering with Indego, I didn’t know banana leaf could generate money! In Burundi, I used to throw banana leaves away- they had little value. Now I use them to weave bags and baskets that sell in the market!
Because I know how to live well with others and avoid conflict, I am able to teach other people in my community about good morals and manners. I’ve learned to be patient in life and learn from others. I know there are people here at the camp who are struggling more than I am, so I help when I can and encourage them to work hard.
The rest of the villages at Mahama look up to me and other members of the cooperative because we’re learning new and different skills. I was recently elected in my village to be the leader of the youth. I am an advocate for young people in my community who have issues they need addressed. Maybe they dropped out of school or are dealing with unwanted pregnancies. I talk to them and help them bring their issues to UNHCR, the health center at Mahama, and other NGO’s in the camp that may be able to help.
My goal was to develop my family and save some money for the future. Indego has been able to help me earn enough money to purchase my own clothes and my children’s clothes. My husband is very proud of my success. He encourages me to keep working because he knows we have opportunities that others do not. All of the women of Umuco who have husbands are looked up to by their spouses. We are respected and confident businesswomen now!
For me, being empowered is to share good morals with others. Part of my responsibility as an empowered woman is to empower other people to do the right thing. I believe in giving others what you have been given.
I am most proud of partnering with Indego and learning new skills. I feel energized and happy in a way I didn’t feel before. I am also able to be creative and design my own products. I’m extremely proud to have a job and be respected by my family and community. In Burundi, it is a thing of pride for a woman to have a job.
My goal for the future is to become a teacher in the camp. I saw how our artisan instructors helped us learn how to weave and I want to be able to do that for other women here. Before Umuco, I only knew how to make floor mats out of banana leaf. Now I know how to manage a business and weave beautiful products that are valued around the world!