I’ve always dreamed of traveling to Africa whose diverse countries provide endless opportunities to learn through travel. Some day I’d like to witness the great migration in Tanzania, silently marvel at the great apes in Uganda, set foot on Mount Kilimanjaro, sample the culinary treasures in South Africa, and sit among basket weavers in Rwanda to learn their craft while getting to know them and listening to their stories.
Ever since I first laid eyes on these gorgeous hand-woven Rwanda Path to Peace baskets in my local Macy’s, I knew these intricate pieces of art were made by women who had stories to tell. The weaving of the baskets is an extraordinarily intricate process that has been practiced for centuries. Each design is unique. Painstakingly crafted from sisal and grass by women who learned to weave from their aunts, mothers, and grandmothers, these baskets have brought women together and fostered peaceful relationships among those who had been enemies in previous years.
You may recall hearing about the violence that took place in Rwanda in 1994. Our news barely covered the genocide that occurred over the span of three months in this tiny country in the heart of Africa where almost a million people (20% of the country’s population) were massacred. In this short amount of time neighbors killed neighbors because of a tribal hatred between the Hutus and the Tutsis. When the violence ended, Rwandan women were thrust into the unfamiliar role of being sole breadwinners for their families, since their husbands, fathers and sons had been killed or whose husbands were jailed for committing unspeakable atrocities.
The genocide tore the ethnic communities of Rwanda apart but 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 Macy’s started the Rwanda Path to Peace program in 2005, it became one of the first “trade not aid” programs. Trade not aid programs are not charities. Instead they are business initiatives where individuals are paid fair wages for their work and incentivized to maintain the partnership. Rwandan weavers who are part of the Path to Peace program earn roughly ten times the average Rwandan wage and the ability to earn income through sustainable job programs is one of the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development outlined by the United Nations as we look to end poverty for good and give girls and women equal opportunities around the world.
Having just celebrated its tenth anniversary last month, the Rwanda Path to Peace program is now the longest-lasting program of its kind. Baskets purchased at Macy’s over the past ten years have impacted thousands of women throughout Rwanda, as well as their families and communities. Earnings from weaving baskets for Macy’s have allowed women to send their children to school, buy everything from soap to land and malaria nets to health insurance. Income earned from their handiwork has rebuilt their communities.
This partnership between Macy’s and the artisans 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. Weavers such as Doracella, Christina, and Ruth have seen huge improvements in their lives.
They have experienced the worst possible pain, through war, and want to send their message of peace, through their baskets to the world thanks to Macy’s who has given them a pathway to do this and changed their lives in the process.
To truly understand the impact that the purchase of a single basket can have on the lives of others, this video features Doracella Uwinana who talks about how weaving baskets for sale at Macy’s has changed her life saying, “When women work together, we have a voice.”
It is with pride that I buy beautiful baskets handmade by the Rwandan weavers who work with the Path to Peace program because I know my purchase is making a difference. One sits on my piano with some instruments purchased during my travels and a small soapstone pig purchased during a visit to Leogane to visit Chena Gilles, a Macy’s Heart of Haiti artist.
Another rests on the ledge of our tub in our master bathroom holding extra hand towels. Can you spot the Heart of Haiti recycled metal wall art in the background?
And my most recent is the red and white commemorative basket that celebrates, the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda Path to Peace program and signifies ten years of peace and prosperity.
I love how all the baskets come with information about the Rwanda Path to Peace program signed by the woman who wove the basket and also comes with a certificate of authenticity. The anniversary baskets come with an additional tag commemorating Macy’s 10 year commitment to Rwanda Path to Peace.
Congratulations to Macy’s on celebrating a ten year commitment to the women in Rwanda through the Path to Peace program! May this partnership continue to flourish for years to come and continue to change the lives of the incredible women who share their handcrafts with us.
I am a member of Everywhere Society and received with product for this post but all opinions (and additional basket purchases) are my own.