Refugees

Training and teamwork led to amazing opportunities for these refugees

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Story by Indego Africa. Photos by Brittany Barb.

Last year, we launched an innovative partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide 50 female refugees from Burundi, now living at the Mahama Refugee Camp in neighboring Rwanda, with vocational and educational training.

Our project at Mahama is focused on providing skills to and building opportunities for the women of the Akeza Cooperative. By employing the women in traditional craft and linking them to market production, Indego Africa is helping to provide some sustainable income-generating opportunities for female refugees and their families.

Within three months of participating in Indego’s vocational training program in 2016, the women of Akeza were producing four distinct sweetgrass-woven products for the Indego Africa collection. They also embraced the spirit of teamwork and banded together to form their own cooperative, Akeza Karigura.

“Indego’s training has helped me come up with ideas that will be helpful for me to run my own business in the future,” said Adeline, 50. “For me, working with Indego is important and profitable because I’m not only gaining business knowledge and vocational skills, but also earning income at the same time.”

In February, Indego helped the artisans set up bank accounts with the income they earn from fulfilling purchase orders. The women also collect monthly membership dues to subsidize the cost of maintaining the cooperative and purchasing supplies, and have recently implemented their own invoicing system for clients.

Today, members of the Akeza Karigura Cooperative are more than halfway through business training, learning a fifth product design, and continuing to fulfill purchase orders.

“My life changed when I joined the cooperative,” said Aline, 27. “I like the spirit of teamwork at Akeza. Working with other women in a cooperative has helped me develop conflict resolution skills and work toward my goal of becoming financially independent.”

The 50 refugee women of Akeza Karigura will graduate from Indego’s vocational and business training program in October and we will continue to provide them with business guidance and international market opportunities as they grow their business within and outside the camp.

Visually, the Mahama Camp is both breathtaking and overwhelming. A sea of white tents – temporary housing for new refugee arrivals – sits beneath a backdrop of mountains, perched above the clear water of the Akagera River on the border of Tanzania. Hundreds of refugees arrive daily, fleeing violence and insecurity in Burundi amidst brewing political unrest. Many of these refugees have lost nearly everything.

What they haven’t lost, they’ve left behind in search for a better future and a safer home. The decision to leave was not an easy one. Many had to leave family members behind who could not travel or refused to join. Although many have found more security in the camp, they continue to make unimaginable sacrifices.

In spite of this, these women are full of grace. They’ve embraced the community they created. They are proud of the work they do. They have future goals – to return home to Burundi, purchase land together, and build a craft business there. Akeza, the name of their cooperative that they selected themselves, means, “You Must Search to Find Beauty in Life.”

All of us can create change with our hands and with our hearts but, like the women of Akeza, we need each other. These women may have arrived at this camp empty-handed, but they hope to return with their hands full — able to create change for themselves and their families.

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