When you look at the gorgeous hand-woven baskets sold online 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. 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.
Macy’s has carried the Rwandan Path to Peace baskets in store and at Macys.com for 10 years. It’s an amazing commitment for an American retailer to make to women in another country. 1994 saw a genocidal mass slaughter in this tiny little nation, no bigger than Rhode Island.
In three short months, nearly 1 million Rwandans were brutally murdered in a fury of ethic violence that is hard to even fathom. After the massacre, a few women came together and did what women in Rwanda do. They talked, they cried and they wove baskets. These were women of both sides of the ethnic divide, practicing the skills of weaving they all learn from their mothers and grandmothers.
When Macy’s began carrying the baskets in 1995, it was the first example of a major American retailer committing to a Trade-not-Aid product line in a substantial way. Macy’s has kept that commitment alive, despite the fact that Rwanda has largely disappeared from the news.
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.
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.
Thousands of children who were malnourished and sick a decade ago have had ten years of food, education and medicine, thanks to this program, and are now thriving young adults. Many have completed secondary school and are headed to university.
The partnership between Macy’s and the artisans has helped the women move from deprivation and uncertainty to a life where they can plan their futures, and build stable, healthy lives by creating the traditional art that was handed down by their mothers and grandmothers. The weavers say that they have experienced the worst possible pain, through war, and want to send their message of peace, through their baskets to the world. Macy’s has given them a pathway to do this.
“This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.“