One basket at a time, Rwandan women are weaving their brutalized country back together. As citizens of one of the most devastated countries in the world, these women refuse to let the anger and bitterness from their landâ��s history affect its future. Rather, through self-sufficiency, hope and basket-weaving, they are leading their nationâ��s rebirth.
Between April and July of 1994, a swift and incomprehensible genocide swept through Rwanda over the course of 100 days. An estimated 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans and sympathizers were systematically slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors and militia with support from government and political leaders. While men were massacred, women and children were raped and mutilated. The terror left a population of only 30% men and nearly 70% women.
Coping with one of the gravest human atrocities in modern history is a considerable feat for any nation, let alone one with as tumultuous a past as Rwanda. But the countryâ��s recovery has been remarkable and is now viewed as a model for other developing countries. In fact, a CNN foreign affairs analyst even dubbed Rwanda as Africaâ��s â��biggest success story.â�� And the country can thank its women for its present stability, economic growth, and rising education levels.
â��I [saw] an opportunity to empower the women of Rwanda,â�� said Willa Shalit, reflecting on a 2003 trip where she first discovered the Rwandan womenâ��s unique talent. By partnering with Macyâ��s and Gahaya Links, Shalitâ��s company, Fair Winds Trading markets exquisitely handwoven baskets to American consumers for the Rwanda Path to Peace project. Proceeds are given to the artisan women who then invest their newfound income in their families.
“What I earn helps me take myself out of poverty,” attested weaver Justine in an interview with CBS. “Today I can buy a dress, I can feed my children.”
Moreover, these baskets benefit the nation as a whole as the project’s impact extends beyond individual family units. Through income made by weavers, entire villages can afford clean water and mosquito netting to combat deadly diseases. HIV-positive weavers can also better meet their medical needs with more access to healthcare and medication.
But the greatest impact is perhaps the least tangible. Another weaver, Dorcille Uwimana, reflects on the influence she and her fellow weavers have had on their homeland. “We have taught the country to move beyond hatred. We realized we cannot always be angry at each other. We have to weave. We have to make our lives better.”
For a country that has been torn asunder by inhumane man-on-man violence, reconciliation has been accomplished through women. And it is women who are the breadwinners, the catalysts, and the leaders.
The Rwandan widow-weavers prove that channeling aid to women and girls is the best way to combat global poverty and extremism. As reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn from The New York Times wrote, “women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”
Baskets are available for purchase from Macys.com and make great holiday gifts.Images courtesy of Fairwindstrading.com