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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog #unhcr

Francine’s Story

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

 

Francine Mukandanga

“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.

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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!

See More

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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International Women’s Day: Josephine’s Story

#indegodiaries, #impact, #education, #unhcr, #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!

See More

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.

Josephine Murekatete

"Being empowered is to keep going no matter what you face in life."

Josephine Murekatete, 52, came to the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda in August 2015. Although she arrived with only one of her children, she now resides at the camp with all five of her children, her husband, and two of her sister’s children.

Life at the camp can be challenging as Josephine recalls struggling to provide for her family upon their arrival. The meals they were given were not enough and there was no work for her and her husband. Though she wanted to return home, she lived in fear of the violence she and her family would face in Burundi. 

Before participating in Indego Africa’s Economic Inclusion for Refugees program and joining the Akeza Cooperative at Mahama, Josephine had never held a formal job. She previously worked as a farmer in Burundi and occasionally sold plastic baskets in the local market. 

While she lives at Mahama, one of Josephine’s goals is to start a side business selling maize flour and vegetables. However, when she leaves the camp and moves back to Burundi, Josephine wants to continue pursuing a career in the artisan sector.

“This program has changed my life and fed my family. When I leave the camp, I want to use the skills I learned to teach other Burundians how to weave.”

Josephine chose to join Indego’s program over other livelihood opportunities at Mahama because she wanted to learn how to make baskets using sisal. When Josephine was a teenager living in Burundi, her mother taught her how to weave and make baskets using plastic thread, but Josephine says she always wanted to expand this skillset.

Since working with Indego Africa, Josephine’s weaving skills have vastly improved. She is now a contributing member of Akeza Cooperative, a “very confident” businesswoman, and the primary income earner in her family. She is able to afford school-related fees for her children and the day-to-day expenses of her family’s life at Mahama. 

“I used to work alone but now I weave with others. I’ve learned to share even the smallest amount of what I  have with my cooperative. It feels good to exchange ideas and live well with others.”

One of Josephine’s proudest accomplishments has come from her work as a member of Akeza Cooperative. With the income she’s earned and saved from fulfilling purchase orders for Indego Africa, Josephine has been able to purchase a sewing machine. Her husband now uses that machine to make money for their family by sewing clothes and household items for others at the camp. 

Although she only attended school through the sixth grade, education remains very important to Josephine. She wants to continue perfecting her weaving skills and learning how to manage a business so she can create a brighter future for herself and her family. 

*** 

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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