If you celebrate Christmas, chances are that every ornament you hang on your tree is meaningful to you just like ours are to us. Pulling out our box of ornaments and unwrapping each one is like reliving a memory. Some of my favorites are the ones that I’ve collected during my trips to Haiti over the past five years. Paper bead ornaments along with handcrafted metal stars, doves, and snowflakes adorn the branches of our tree while an angel made of the same material sits gracefully on top.
Made by the artists who craft metalwork pieces for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, these ornaments are more than decorations. They’re gifts that give hope thanks to a sustainable business model that has created economic empowerment for Haitian artists following the devastating 2010 earthquake and more recently, Hurricane Matthew that devastated parts of the island in October of this year.
Around the world in Rwanda, female basket weavers make a livelihood doing what they love most- weaving baskets for Rwanda Path to Peace line, also available at Macy’s. Just as I’m proud to support Haitian artists by purchasing items from the Heart of Haiti line, I’m equally proud of the Path to Peace baskets I’ve collected over the past few years.
This year as I unboxed a limited edition 2016 Year of Peace Gold Ornament ($18) from the Rwanda Path to Peace collection, I thought about how intricate the process of weaving baskets is and how much the act of weaving represents hope, faith, and moving forward towards peace after months of genocide in 1994.
In 1994 I was I college and unaware that a mass slaughter was taking place in Rwanda. In just three months, nearly a million people – 20% of the nation’s population – were massacred when tribal hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis turned into ethnic slaughter in this tiny country in the heart of Africa. Neighbors killed each other in one of the worst genocides in human history.
After the violence ended, many Rwandan women found themselves thrust into the unfamiliar role of being the sole breadwinner 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 path toward peace for the Hutu and Tutsi. 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 Rwandan women a hand up, not a handout, and Rwanda Path to Peace became one of the first “trade not aid” programs. Thanks to the partnership between Macy’s and the artisans, women have moved past 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.
Women can now send their children to school thanks to the wages earned from the baskets they weave. They’re able to buy everything from soap to land, malaria nets to health insurance. The income they earn from their handiwork has also helped rebuild their communities. Many weavers today have seen huge improvements in their lives just as artists in Haiti have since Heart of Haiti began after the 2010 earthquake. Just like in Haiti, Rwandan weavers use traditional methods to create products that they are proud to know are available online and in Macy’s stores around the country. Artisans in Haiti and Rwanda prefer to get orders for their work rather than handouts.
This year I am proud to add the Rwanda Path to Peace limited edition 2016 Year of Peace Gold Ornament ($18) to our tree as a gorgeous reminder of peace woven by women who have experienced pain through war but are sending messages of peace through their baskets to the world thanks to the Path to Peace collection.
I was gifted a product from the Macy’s Path to Peace line however all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Some images courtesy of Macy’s mBlog.