Check out this guest post from Indego Africa volunteer Sarah Dunigan. For more Indego Africa stories, check out their blog, Social Enterprising:
I am often asked what drives me to volunteer in Africa. I find it hard to put into words, but sharing a story often helps.
For the past two months I have had the pleasure of volunteering for Indego Africa, an innovative social enterprise empowering hundreds of women in Rwanda to lift themselves out of poverty by selling their fair trade handicrafts and returning 100% of profits to fund training programs in business management, entrepreneurship, microfinance, computers and literacy. Until recently, Indego Africa’s cooperative partners, Cocoki and Covanya, had never sold their handicrafts in the local Rwandan market. Instead, orders have always been picked up at the cooperatives by Indego Africa and shipped to the United States. But last Friday, at the U.S. Embassy Holiday Crafts Fair here in Rwanda, everything changed.
The cooperatives were in full preparation mode in the weeks leading up to the fair. The foot-powered sewing machines at Cocoki whirred as the artisans created their unique textile products. Rows of women lined the floor at Covanya weaving and individually signing the tags on their brightly colored baskets. They even requested that Indego Africa lead extra training sessions on business English, product pricing and accounting.
When the day of the fair arrived, the women were still feeling a bit unsure of themselves. Upon arrival at the market, we even discovered that other handicraft organizations were, unfortunately, not represented by their artisans. But the women took a collective deep breath and got to it – and the customers responded!
Covanya nearly cleared out their entire inventory of baskets, and Cocoki’s yoga bags and laptop sleeves were flying off the table. The women’s English rapidly improved as they answered questions about pricing and styles. They handled the money, wrote out receipts, and even balanced their receipt books against their cash drawer at the end of the day to make sure they matched.
This was a defining moment for the women of Indego Africa. They were learning by doing and the result was a dramatic increase of confidence in their capabilities as independent businesswomen. As the number of products dwindled, Daphrose, a master weaver at Covanya, turned to me and said through a huge smile, “This gives us courage!”
-Sarah Dunigan, Indego Africa Volunteer in Rwanda