I love a great product with a good story behind it. These radiant smiles and gorgeous hand-woven baskets sold on line and in Macy’s stores as part of the Rwanda Path to Peace program. It’s easy to see them solely as objects of beauty, but it’s hard to imagine the journey the baskets and the women who make them have been on. In fact, each basket represents a journey towards reconciliation.
In 1994, we in America were totally unaware that a mass slaughter was taking place in Rwanda, a tiny country in the heart of Africa. In just three months, nearly a million people, 20% of the nation’s population, was massacred when tribal hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis turned into ethnic slaughter. Neighbor killed neighbor in one of the worst genocides in human history. After the violence ended, many Rwandan women found themselves thrust into the unfamiliar role of being sole breadwinners for their families, since their husbands, fathers and sons had been killed. Others saw their husbands jailed for committing unspeakable atrocities.
Despite this savage history, Rwanda today is a country of both hope and faith. Even though their physical and psychological wounds were fresh after the genocide, many women embraced an opportunity to heal. Weaving baskets became a way forward and a way towards peace. Women from both sides of the ethnic divide came together, wove baskets, and created an industry, which today supports thousands of Rwandan women and their families. One American woman who vowed to make a difference helped the Rwandan women – social entrepreneur, artist and activist, Willa Shalit. In 2005 Shalit showed the baskets to executives at Macy’s who committed to sell them and to go into business with the weavers in Rwanda. Macy’s offered them a hand up, not a handout.
Rwanda Path to Peace is now the longest-lasting program of its kind, impacting thousands of women throughout Rwanda, their families and communities. With their earnings, women can now send their children to school. They can buy everything from soap to land, malaria nets to health insurance. The income they earn from their handiwork has helped rebuild their communities. One of the first things a weaver does when she sells her first basket is buy soap. The next thing she does is buy shoes and pay school fees. Many weavers today have seen huge improvements in their lives. Theses weavers earn roughly ten times the average Rwandan wage.
The weaving of the baskets is an extraordinarily intricate process that has been practiced for centuries in Rwanda. Each design is unique and painstakingly crafted from sisal and grass by women who learned to weave from their aunts, mothers and grandmothers.
This year celebrates Macy’s 10-year commitment to Rwanda Path to Peace and as part of that celebration,
Macy’s is featuring a commemorative basket. Join in the celebration and shop, while supporting a great cause!
“This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.“