Genocide Survivors Rebuild with Banana Cooperative

Twiyubake Cooperative

Jacqueline Musabyimana is the president of the Twiyubake Banana Leaf Cooperative. Twiyubake means “to rebuild ourselves” in the Kinyarwanda language. Musabyimana is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Her family, like many in the area, struggled to survive in the aftermath of the humanitarian crisis.

Genocide survivors were faced with difficult circumstances, including the loss of many (mostly male) family members. However, women were determined to lift themselves out of poverty with dignity and confidence.

The Twiyubake Cooperative is made up of master banana leaf weavers and other master artisans who have been making and selling banana leaf products since 2008.

Musabyimana and other women in the area learned to make hand-woven banana leaf baskets and jewelry to supplement family incomes. In 2011, U.S.-based Songa Designs International came to their village. The for-profit “socially conscious” fashion start-up was fascinated with the merchandise weavers were making and decided to help sell them.

Musabyimana was able to buy a plot of land, build a home, as well as purchase a cow and goat — all with the money she made by selling her products through Songa.

The Songa Designs website states that the dynamic in many areas of the developing world is for women to be entirely dependent on their husbands.

However, the company seeks to change the status quo by offering opportunities to under-resourced women so that they can “achieve economic independence by using skills acquired through everyday life to make a living. Songa Designs provides jobs for these women who negotiate their own salaries and earn fair wages.”

The Twiyubake Cooperative is one of the groups that belong to Indego Africa, a group whose mission it is to empower women artisan in Africa. According to the Indego Africa website, a cooperative is “a legally recognized form of association in Rwanda that was promoted by the government after the 1994 genocide.”

Following the genocide, the Rwanda population was 70 percent female and the economy was a disaster. Women were left to rebuild the country, but most lacked education and knew nothing about business or export markets. Indego Africa helps the cooperatives develop business and become sustainable.

The Twiyubake Cooperative employs female genocide survivors as well as the wives of genocide perpetrators. All the steps involved in making products for sale in the Twiyubake artisan line are done by hand — specifically, the metal working, beading, embroidery and sewing. In addition, the natural banana leaf and other fibers are grown locally.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Flickr