The Resilient Women of Abasangiye

1 Nov 2010

This is cross-posted from the Indego Africa blog

In the midst of this flurry of exciting activity at Indego Africa, we could not resist the opportunity to momentarily pause and issue a special missive on the eye-opening progress we are seeing at Abasangiye – a self-organized cooperative of 25 artisan women from Kayonza brought together through our collaboration with Foundation Rwanda and Survivors Fund (SURF).

The story of the women of Abasangiye is at once heartbreaking and uplifting. All members of the eastern regional branch of AVEGA Agahozo (Association of Widows of the Genocide), the women of Abasangiye suffered through some of the worst of the horrifying realities of the 1994 Genocide; many were chased, beaten, raped, infected with HIV/AIDS, and had their husbands, children, or other loved ones taken from them. At the onset of their organization, the women of Abasangiye had no formal association or cooperative membership, no bank accounts, no places to work, no equipment and no specialized training.

But the resilience and tenacity of these extraordinary women runs even deeper than anyone could have ever imagined! Having embarked on an ambitious regimen of training programs in financial management, literacy (English and Kinyarwanda), and sewing in August, the women of Abasangiye are leaping and bounding along an educational path from talented artisans to savvy businesswomen. In the words of their English literacy instructor, Generation Rwanda scholar Eugene Nteziyaremye, “the women are motivated…they didn’t want to stop asking questions…they want to learn more!”

Abasangiye

What is particularly poignant and moving is that the women, at their own insistence and with the help of our dynamic Rwanda Program Coordinator Sarah Dunigan, are holding sessions where they each tell their stories to one another. Storytelling carries a tremendous power to heal, strengthen, and unify through giving voice and bearing witness and this storytelling reminds us how powerful the possibilities for community are at a place like Abasangiye. As Sarah aptly put it, “not only are cooperatives a place where talented artisans gather, they’re also a very strong and special support group where the women truly rely on each other for emotional support.”

What originated as a four-month initial partnership has blossomed into so much more. With the continuing generous support of Foundation Rwanda and SURF, we are moving full speed ahead with our core training programs at Abasangiye while simultaneously ramping up our assistance with internal cooperative governance and export market-readiness. In addition, just this month, we placed our first order with Abasangiye for a holiday line of Indego Africa-designed textile ball ornaments.

Another remarkable chapter in the Indego Africa story. To the women of Abasangiye!