The Rwandan Genocide resulted due to the civil war within the country involving two ethnic communities, the Hutu and the Tutsi. It is estimated that in a hundred day period, between April 7 to mid-July 1994, close to a million Rwandans lost their lives, leaving the country in shambles. The inspiring Story of All Across Africa (AAA) comes from the hope of the women of Rwanda for a better future as the country rebuilds and reconciles with its past. The Rwanda women artisans that weave these baskets, are really weaving their stories, hope, and aspirations into baskets that become part of the lives of people who buy these baskets.
Maliceline is a part of a weaving cooperative through All Across Africa in Rwanda. She and her husband, who is a builder, support her four children along with Clementine, who is her teenage cousin. Clementine was orphaned when her parents died at a refugee camp in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Maliceline has been weaving for 24 years of the 37 years of her life.
Before joining the AAA weaving cooperative, Maliceline and her husband struggled to feed their family on a daily basis. In order to sell her baskets she had to travel to Kigali which was an hour away. In addition to paying for transportation, she also received less money for her baskets because of multiple middlemen in the supply chain. After a year of joining the AAA weaving cooperative, Maliceline now serves as a member of the leadership committee. Since working for AAA she has been able to afford electricity, better clothing, nutritious food, school fees., and health insurance for herself and her family.
AAA is a member of the Fair Trade Federation and partners with over 3,200 artisans which ultimately has an outreach of approximately 21,000 Rwandan citizens since an AAA artisan supports 6 family members on average. AAA’s market-driven focus is shaped by its commitment to creating relationships with their artisans, who can depend on a consistent flow of long-term orders, and also to their consumers who benefit from the transparency of knowing what they are purchasing and exactly where it was produced.
AAA baskets have unique qualities resulting from traditional hand-woven techniques. Not only are the baskets vibrant and uplifting, they are also Eco-friendly. The raw material used to make AAA baskets comes from harvested sisal and sweet grass. The sisal plant grows throughout Rwanda making it an abundantly available renewable resource. The artisans use a manual process of stripping the sisal leaves, revealing the natural white threads within the plant, similar to making spaghetti from a spaghetti squash.
The dying process involves boiling the sisal threads with vibrant organic dyes, which are then hung to dry. The artisans gather the prepared dried sisal threads and create magic by winding carefully chosen colored sisal threads around thin bundles of long sweet grass into a seashell-like coil.
The long sweet grass fibers provide a strong enduring structural element to these baskets, which become heirlooms, lasting for years as they are handed down from one generation to the next. As the sisal coil grows the basket slowly takes shape, typically requiring approximately a week to complete a medium sized basket. The beauty and durability of these handcrafted baskets are the result of years of training and technique-development, and the unique characteristics of each basket is a quality is cherished by those that have them in their homes for years to come.
Beyond the natural beauty that defines AAA’s artisanal crafts, there is a profound connection forged between the artisans who create these baskets and those that own them - leading to greater appreciation and understanding of the importance of the Rwandan culture and the preservation of their artisanal heritage. Woven baskets are symbolic of major life events in Rwanda and are gifted to friends and family to commemorate celebrations such as weddings, births, and graduations. Rwandan baskets are proudly displayed as symbols of the wealth of friends, family, and life.
The AAA artisans benefit greatly from the livelihood opportunities provided by the AAA business network and the sales of their baskets. The sale of each basket has many tangible benefits to the artisans and their families, as it increases their potential for a better quality of life, helps to foster a heightened sense of self-worth, confidence, and status within their community. The positive impact from the production and income of basket weaving permeates throughout the Rwandan nation, as income from the sales of these baskets enables artisans to start businesses and employ other workers.
Global Shokunin product offering of All Across Africa's hand woven baskets through their partnership with AAA helps to extend AAA’s positive impact, which they characterize as an olive branch stretching across continents and bridging the gap between the consumers and their artisan partners. As with all of the artisan organizations Global Shokunin partner’s with All Across Africa ensures Fair Labor practices and safe working conditions throughout their supply chain. In addition to their focus on creating jobs, AAA partners with Opportunities Across Africa and Rwanda Partners, nonprofit organizations that provide comprehensive programs in skill training and product development, education, to rural and marginalized communities.
The Rwandan artisans use symbolic patterns and vibrant colorways with the most popular being the Sunburst pattern also known as the "Hope" design. This sunburst or hope image reflected on the Rwandan flag stands for the country's collective hope for a new dawn and brighter future. It was hard for Maliceline and her family living in post-genocide Rwanda with memories of lost family members and friends. They had lost hope about reuniting as a nation, but since being in the cooperative, they are learning to forgive each other and work together.
You can view and purchase our Rwandan Basket collection here!