Introduction: The Rwanda Basket Project

Rising Team - Thursday, December 03, 2009

In 1994 the world witnessed the horrifying and heartbreaking genocide of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan citizens. Much of the population has yet to fully recover from the emotional, social, and economic consequences of this tragic event. The women of Rwanda, in particular, face unique challenges in moving forward. 

Rising International and Katrina Makuch* have worked to harness the power of entrepreneurship as a means to lift these women out of poverty.  During the summer of 2008, while a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ms. Makuch identified three Rwandan genocide survivors’ cooperatives who suffered from limited access in their domestic market. The Rwanda Basket Project, born of this partnership, has brought together women survivors of the genocide - female victims as well as the mothers and wives of genocide perpetrators - in the effort to reconcile the past, promote peace, and improve their standard of living through the art of traditional basket weaving.

Ms. Makuch’s research on the impact of Rising International’s Rwanda Program has shown that by providing access to the US marketplace, these entrepreneurial women capitalize on their skills and significantly increase their incomes, improving their wellbeing and the health of their families. With Rising International providing training, technical assistance, and most importantly access to an export market for their beautiful baskets, members of the Rwanda Basket Project have achieved an average annual income of US$370 – almost $100 more than the national per capita income of Rwanda in the first year alone!**

Despite a dark past, the women of the Rwanda Basket Project cooperatives are now crafting a brighter future.


To view products from the Rwanda Basket Project click here

* Katrina Makuch is a Development Economist based in California. The Rwanda Basket Project development and research funding was provided by Rising International and RNR Foundation, Connie and Bob Lurie, Dina and Clint Eastwood, David E. Kaun Fund, and many other generous donors.

 ** Source: Path to Prosperity: Female Entrepreneurs in the Rwandan Handicraft Sector, Katrina Makuch, University of California, Santa Cruz, June 2009. 

Josephine's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Josephine is 34 years old. She has 4 children of her own, and also cares for the 4 children her husband has from a prior marriage. 

This is her story: 

I can start by telling you how I escaped to Congo in 1994. I was twenty. We escaped because of the division in Rwanda. People were being killed because of the divisionism. I escaped with my parents and siblings because there was no security.

While we were escaping, we suffered from much hunger. We had no food. We had no water. We only had the one clothes on our bodies and there were lice in the clothes. We were hiding at night and walking during the day. We walked for three days to Congo. We escaped because the Interahamwe told us the country would be attacked by RPF.

During the escape I separated from my parents and arrived in Congo by myself. There was a cloud of people leaving for Congo. There were so many people you could not count them. I watched two children die because they were kicked.

When I arrived in Goma (DRC), there was no water or food, but after one week I received help from friends. There were many many dead bodies. There was deadness. Every night we were weeping. At that time I was living with many people who also escaped to Congo. Some friends brought us mats to cover at night. My parents searched and searched for me. After a week they found me. After they found me, my father died. He died in Congo.

We lived in Congo for two years. At night I would sleep on the ground next to many many people. We lived like this for two weeks. An aid group came and helped us find mice and gave us beans, peas, rice and vegetables. Many groups came. I do not remember all their names. We lived like this for two years.

After two years, the government of
Rwanda sent a bus to take all the exiles back to Rwanda. We refused to go because we were afraid they would kill us. A week later they came back and moved us by force.

We came back to our house. We found our house burned by fire. Many of our things had been taken. We did not find any of our domestic animals. When we got here [Rugendabari] the government tried to help us as exiles and because of the many trips we were very tired. Hence our mother died. At that time we start to cultivate to grow some plants.

While I was in Congo I got married, but my husband died fighting. He was fighting with the Interahamwe, but after the war he joined the Rwanda army. He died fighting in Congo with the Rwanda army. He left me with one child.

After that I got married again. So I am married to a man who was married before. His first wife died of sickness, and he had four children. Together we make a family, but I am not happy. His children despise me. He does not treat me good.

I joined the Zamuka Cooperative a year ago. I make money from selling my baskets. I would like to sell them for a very long time.

Click to view products from the Rwanda Basket Project


Feresita's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Feresita is 44 years old. She is a Hutu, and today she cares for six of her children in Rugendabari.

This is her story:


During the war, I had nine children. I had two children who fell sick and while I was escaping to Congo these two children died. One was 5 years old and the other was 2 years old.


At the beginning I had to hide at the sector office because rouge people wanted to throw me in the river because they thought I was a Tutsi because I was so tall.


I escaped and hid on the roof of my house, but one day I fell from the roof and broke my right leg. I walked to Kabgyi hospital with my husband, but even there the soldiers where killing people. It was very hard. My husband sold any metal we had at the house so we would have money for the hospital, but it was still difficult. I had to leave my children with other family members when we went to the hospital.


I came back from the hospital and my leg was not fixed. My family needed to escape to Congo. While we were escaping, my child fell out of a tree and broke his arm. While we were marching to Congo, we would use sticks to dig sweet potatoes from other peoples’ fields. We did not cook the potatoes. We just ate them raw. We had nothing else to eat.


While trying to escape in April, my two sick children died on the road to Congo. I could not bury them. I did not continue to Congo after this. I took my living children and returned to Rugendabari to try and find a home.


In Rugendabari, my mother and two sisters burned to death when a RPF helicopter shot at the house by accident and the house caught fire. Today the house is the same. We have no money to fix the house, so it looks like it did during the war.


During this time we would hide in the valleys and forests. We traveled with mats for warmth.


After the war, I returned to Kabgyi to fix my leg. They had to cut my leg and they put metal in my leg. I had to sell my field to pay for this. Because of my leg, I can not work in the field.


I joined Zamuka Cooperative one year ago because I had no work because of my leg. I use the money from selling baskets to buy one field, which I have today. 


Feresita was the first to celebrate her first basket sale to Rising. She clapped and danced and was so grateful. She hopes to buy more land so she will be able to leave land for her remaining children.


To view products from the Rwanda Basket Project

Sylverine's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Sylverine is 35 years old. Her father was a Hutu, and her mother was a Tutsi. She now lives in Rugendabari, Rwanda with her husband and children.

This is her story:


At the beginning of the war, I was living with my sister, but she died because of illness, and so I moved to stay with my brother.


The Interahamwe were hurting people called Tutsi. At that time, we dug a hole in the ground and put trees over it to hide. We were six persons at that time, but my brother went to Kigali because that is where he had a job. He died in Kigali.


Many times they [the Interahamwe] came. They came with machetes, hammers, hoes. They came during the day and during the night. They were looking for people hiding in the fields and in the bananas. Because of this we had to stay in our hole. We had a very small hole to breathe through.


One day my father sent my sister, who was in her first year of university in Butare, to find food. When she was returning the Interahamwe stopped her. They made her lie on the ground. They told her to tell them the names of everyone who was hiding or they would kill her. At that time a respected man came and pleaded for her life. The Interahamwe let her go.


We lived in our hole for almost three months. Finally the soldiers came to rescue us.


We knew the soldiers had sex with many women, and so I was afraid to marry my husband because of SIDA [AIDS], but after many years I agreed. My husband went to fight in the Congo for two years, and during this time I was alone and it was very bad for me. (Note: originally her husband went to Congo to tell the refugees to return to Rwanda, but when he arrived in Congo he found the first Congo war and stayed to fight.)


During these two years I lived with women whose husbands were also fighting in Congo or Uganda. There were three of us. Two would become widows. First we lived in Gitarama, and then we moved to Butare. We lived with orphans, people hurt during the war and sick people. I taught these children, and I also was a midwife.


After two years my husband came back and found me in Butare. We were married in Nyanza after his first return from Congo. He was later called back to fight in Congo. He left me pregnant. When he returned my son was so old and did not recognize him. He was shot in Congo. Once in the arm and once in the knee. He is now disabled.


I joined the Zamuka Cooperative 15 months ago. When we started this cooperative, people laughed at us, but this cooperative has helped me. It has helped my family. It has been very good for my life.


To view products from the Rwanda Basket Project

Petronille's Story of Hope

Rising Team - Monday, November 30, 2009

Petronille is 29 years old. During the war she was 15 years old. She is one of eight children. She now lives in Rugendabari with her sister, her children, and two other orphans.

This is her story:


During the war, we slept at our neighbor’s house where many families had gathered. When the soldiers [Interahamwe] came, we ran and hid in the forest and in people’s fields. I did not have an identity card. At night people would come and kill others without asking about identity cards. They were strangers who were directed by neighbors to kill.


They took my father and jailed him for one day. They took him because they said he was a fighter. In the morning, the authorities took all the prisoners outside, and in front of everyone they shot all the prisoners. I did not see my father get shot. I only saw his body with the bodies of all the other men, dead. (Note: Earlier in the year Petronille’s father had won a legal settlement against a neighbor. It is believed that the neighbor accused him of being an RPF fighter as revenge against his legal victory.)


After they killed my father, we walked that night to a family member’s house for safety. It is here that my mother fell ill. We hid for one month. After the food ran out, we were left with a thin porridge for breakfast, and then nothing else for the whole day.


When we returned home, we went to find the domestic animals we had left with a person we knew the Interahamwe would not kill. When we returned, we got our goat and cow from this person, and we began to weave mats to make money. Our fields were still there, but all our crops had been removed to feed the army.


For one year we lived with our neighbors comforting and protecting us because they knew our mother was ill and how our father had been killed. During this time seeds were not available, and we struggled to grow food.


At the end 1995, my mother died. Our standard of living became very bad. My three older sisters had been married, and so I was the oldest person responsible for my other siblings. We had a terrible problem of famine.


Today I am still at home with my older sister, and I am still not yet married. I live with my sisters and two other orphans. I would like to get married in the future, but today I want to help those younger than me so in the future they can help themselves.


Petronille joined Zamuka Cooperative 15 months ago. Because of the cooperative, she does not worry about feeding her siblings. She feels it is such a blessing to have help from the cooperative, and is so thankful for the women who buy her baskets in America.


To view products from the Rwanda Basket Project