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.
1994. Where were you? I was only 12. I remember seeing the news reports at home, but I didn’t understand what was going on. I asked my mom. I asked my teachers at school. I understood the word genocide, but not the concept. I had studied the holocaust and my teachers were comparing the two to help explain, but STILL I didn’t understood the hatred behind it. I know years later I studied it more in school and even saw the films about Rwanda. What struck me the most was it could have been prevented. Yet, now it is a sad part of 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.
Something as simple as weaving a basket has helped the women of Rwanda to become entrepreneurs. Hear from one of the women and hear her powerful story for yourself: “What makes me proud is people now believe in me.” – Christina Mukankuranga
Why Path To Peace is SO Important
After the genocide, which tore the ethnic communities of Rwanda apart, the country was looking for a positive symbol that all sides could endorse. Beautiful baskets had been part of Rwanda’s culture for centuries. Their craft and artistry were celebrated by all sides and across the ethnic divide. When the Rwanda Path to Peace program began, the basket became the symbol that all Rwandans could embrace. And as women from formerly warring tribes came together to weave, the Path to Peace program became a vital tool to foster reconciliation.
Rwanda Path to Peace is one of the first “trade not aid” programs, meaning that it is not a charity, but a business initiative where all sides are incentivized to keep it going. 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.
The weavers earn roughly ten times the average Rwandan wage. A decrease in overall violence: In many cases, women whose families were “enemies” during the genocide, have made peace with each other through weaving. Additionally, the baskets have not only led to peace between Hutu and Tutsi, but also between men and women. Domestic violence has decreased immensely, due to the fact that the men now respect that women are wage earners. That fact also allowed women to have increased personal power in a formerly male-dominated culture. This has led to greater stability throughout Rwandan society.
Macy’s customers have been buying the Rwandan weavers’ baskets for ten years, which is remarkable given the standard turnover in retail goods and consumer tastes. The open hearts of Macy’s customers have directly supported peace and prosperity in Rwanda. By sharing this story, you are part of this effort.
With the 10-year anniversary happening it shows Macy’s unwavering commitment. Macy’s is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda Path to Peace program with a commemorative basket, woven to represent 10 years of peace and prosperity. You can Go HERE and BUY IT NOW! For only $30 you are helping out AND you get a beautiful basket that was inspired by peace. It’s a win/win
***Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own***