In the fall of 2016, Indego Africa launched a pilot project in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide vocational and business training to Burundian refugees in the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda. The goal of this project was to help female refugees improve their livelihoods by building the skills necessary to participate in the global artisan economy.
To assist our Rwanda Production Manager and Country Director, we hired three of our talented artisan partners from Imirasire, a weaving cooperative in Bugasera, to teach 50 refugee women onsite in the Mahama Camp how to weave baskets out of sweetgrass. (We love to see our long-time partners becoming mentors for other women!)
Since the project's launch, the women at Mahama have banded together to form their own cooperative: Akeza Kararonderwa Burundi, which translates to, you must search to find beauty in life. With vocational and business training from our production and education teams who travel to the camp each week, the women of Akeza Burundi are now handcrafting high-quality woven products for the Indego Africa collection and securing long-term economic benefits for themselves and their families.
Adeline Ntirabampa, 50, is extremely proud of the education she's receiving from Indego Africa. "Indego's training has helped me come up with ideas that will be helpful for me to run my own business in the future," said Adeline. "For me, working with Indego is important and profitable because I'm not only gaining business knowledge and vocational skills, but also earning income at the same time."
Like many of the refugees living at Mahama, Aline Kezakabaganwa, 27, struggled to provide for her family when she first arrived at the camp. In Burundi, Aline was surrounded by political violence and concerned for the safety of her children. She found refuge at Mahama but was afraid she would be unable to earn enough money to support her family in the camp. "My life changed when I joined the cooperative," said Aline. "I like the spirit of teamwork at Akeza Burundi. Working with other women in a cooperative has helped me develop conflict resolution skills and work toward my goal of becoming financially independent."
Esperance Butoyi, 26, also echoes the importance and comfort of working with other women in the cooperative. "Working with other women at Akeza Burundi every day has helped me become more sociable and create lasting friendships," said Esperance. "I am proud of being a member of the cooperative because we avoid conflict, work as a team, and try to support each other."
Since working with Indego, Esperance has also been inspired to encourage others in the camp to come up with solutions to problems together as teams. “I want to be a part of Akeza Burundi cooperative forever,” said Esperance. “One thing I’ve learned is that we can achieve so much more together than we ever can alone.”
When it comes to her goals and dreams for the future, Esperance, like many of the women at Akeza Burundi, wants to provide for her children and even buy a piece of land for them when she returns to her home country of Burundi. Emelyne Chishayo, 31, also dreams of helping her children attend school, as well as running her own boutique business someday.
Like these women, Evelyne Musaniwabo, 32, says she won’t stop dreaming big. “My goal is to learn more basket designs from Indego and fulfill as many purchase orders as possible,” said Evelyne. “I hope to make enough money to educate all of my children and send them to school.”
While life at the camp continues to be challenging, the women of Akeza Burundi are full of courage and hope. “Since partnering with Indego, I have become more skilled, knowledgeable, and organized,” said Marguerite Iyamuremye, 64. “I am confident that my future will be bright.”
The women of Akeza Burundi are a truly remarkable embodiment of their cooperative’s namesake- unwavering in their search to find the good and beauty in life. We are so honored to be a part of their journey and believe now, more than ever, it is necessary to come together to support refugee communities and ensure equal opportunities for women and artisans around the world.
We couldn’t be more excited to grow this program and continue to provide valuable livelihood and leadership skills to the lives of these resilient women in the future!