While visiting Nkombo Island, I had an opportunity to interact with members of a cooperative known as Agaseke k’Amahoro. I showed up when my hosts were working around the clock to ensure their latest order is delivered in time.
The cooperative had a few days to ship a big consignment to Hands Producing Hope, a fair trade and eco-friendly fashion brand established to empower women in Rwanda and Costa Rica.
The atrocities of 1994 restructured Rwanda’s gender ratio drastically. The aftermath of the Genocide against the Tutsi and the ensuing exodus begot a depleted nation in which women formed about 70% of the population. Consequently, many women across the country found themselves shouldering the responsibility of providing for their families.
Thrust into an unfamiliar territory, many rural women didn’t fare well in the competitive job market due to limited formal education or lack thereof. Fortunately, the post-liberation enabling environment is helping women to break the long-standing barrier formed by generations of marginalization.
Weaving baskets has been a common practice in the Rwandan culture for centuries. A traditional Rwandan basket, known as agaseke, is a symbol of peace. It is a precious item and an envelop of gifts from the heart. Furthermore, artistically woven baskets are used to decorate homes and venues of different functions.
Today, agaseke is accorded the recognition it deserves. A head-turning basket is mounted on top of the headquarters of Gasabo District, the nation’s birthplace. Way before the building was constructed, agaseke was placed in the middle of Rwanda’s coat of arms. It has been a while since I went cashless. The last time I touched money, I saw this iconic artifact on a 5,000-franc bill.
Agaseke transcends its symbolic value. It is a key weapon in the war against poverty, particularly among women residing in rural areas. Moreover, weaving baskets goes beyond putting food on the table and sending kids to school. It brings together Rwandans from three formerly divided ethnic groups, hence fostering unity and reconciliation. The role played by artisans in weaving a divided nation into a unified one is undeniable.
Mukamusoni Odette, a widow plying her craft under the umbrella of Agaseke k’Amahoro, owes everything she has to the basket that restored her lost hope. "I was once reduced to a beggar but this product has transformed my life." She says proudly.