19 July 2012

New markets for African handicraft products

Seeds of Hope: Buy the products, change lives

Hutu and Tutsi women come together in handicraft

To many people in Africa, earning one dollar or euro may be enough to feed a family for a day. Selling handicrafts is a solution for some, but how can they be sold to far-off markets like the US? That is where Seeds of Hope, a non-profit organization in Charlotte, North Carolina (US) comes in. 
The organization ships handicraft products – beads and various woven products such as baskets and purses – made by widows and marginalized African women in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi to the US. They sell well in local stores and at ‘home parties’. The proceeds of the sales go to the women and the expansion of the microeconomic enterprise to help more women, says Celeste Bundy of Seeds of Hope.

Who makes these products?

“We buy the products from widows of genocide and HIV/AIDS in Rwanda, Burundi and Northern Uganda. Currently, there are 135 women involved in the bead/jewellery making initiative and approximately 40 women in the basket making program in Rwanda and Burundi.”

How did you get the women to work together?

“With the support of local organizations, the women formed work groups, irrespective of their Hutu and Tutsi native tribes. We found that this has been essential in offering social support to members. They can thus counsel and advise each other within the groups and even offer moral support. For example, when a lady in the Gulu group lost a son in an accident, the group members supported and encouraged her during this tough time. Also when one of them is sick they visit the woman and provide needs when necessary. No matter what tribe she is from.”

What do these women get out of it?

“First of all, it is the money to survive without the help of a husband or of families. Feeding and educating children may seem like a small dream, but it is HUGE for a woman whose husband was killed in a rebel attack. Making the handicrafts allows these women to escape the stone quarry where she and her children were previously working to earn the 50 cents a day they need to simply feed themselves.”

What is in the future?

“The bead project has also given many women a brick and mortar house, a better alternative for their former mud and wattle houses. As part of a group activity, adult literacy classes have been initiated for the women, most of whom were initially illiterate.  Group bank accounts have also been established for group saving which helps them to develop a culture of saving and also have a savings when times get hard. These achievements all started with the idea to start selling handicrafts from these regions to homes in the western world. It is in no way ‘aid money’, but well-earned money, coming from hard work. And literally changing the lives of these women.”

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