Fighting HIV/AIDS through economic opportunity

Fighting HIV/AIDS through economic opportunity

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Members of the ISANO Cooperative. Photo Credit: Putney School

This blog was brought to us by our partner, Indego Africa. 

More than 200,000 people between the ages of 15-24 live with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda. Even more are affected by the disease – struggling with taking care of ill family, or dealing with the loss of parents, guardians, or other relatives.

At Indego Africa, we see firsthand the devastating effects that HIV/AIDS can have on individuals and communities in Rwanda. That’s why we are thrilled to partner with CHABHA (Children Affected by HIV/AIDS) to help provide employment & vocational training to the ISANO cooperative – a group of talented young people, all of whom are affected in some way by HIV/AIDS. CHABHA is a nonprofit that partners with community-based organizations in Rwanda and Burundi to support children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty. The young people CHABHA works with come from the poorest families in their communities, with parents or guardians who are unable to provide for them.

When discussing HIV/AIDS in Rwanda, it is important to acknowledge the 1994 genocide that contributed significantly to its spread. During those 100 days, an estimated 250,000 – 500,000 women were raped, often by known HIV+ men, as a weapon of genocide. Today, survivors and their families continue to struggle with the aftermath of this devastating violence.

While young people in Rwanda, and around the world, are often the most vulnerable population affected by HIV/AIDS, they are also determined to rise above it. The young people of the ISANO cooperative – an Indego Africa & CHABHA partner – are no exception.

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Members of the ISANO cooperative learning how to weave. Photo credit: Putney School

ISANO is a weaving cooperative in the Kicukiro district of Rwanda. It was founded in 2013 by entrepreneurial high school student, Celine Mudahakana (in partnership with CHABHA’s Project Independence Initiative) in order to create a sustainable source of income for young people affected by HIV/AIDS. Most of ISANO’s members had dropped out of school because they could not afford to pay the fees. Without education or income-earning opportunities, these young adults and their families were living a life of abject poverty.

1- Celine Mudahakana

Celine Mudahakana with some of the beautiful scarves made by ISANO artisans and sold in both the US and Rwanda. Photo Credit: CHABHA.

At Indego Africa, we believe deeply in the power of education and economic empowerment to transform lives. That’s why we are thrilled to partner with ISANO to create beautiful woven products – like a loomed linen spring scarf collection – that provide its artisans with opportunities to earn sustainable, fair-trade income and to learn valuable business skills along the way.

a student modeling her finished scarf

New to weaving, a student shows off her first finished scarf! Photo credit:Putney School

We can’t believe this was her first time weaving.  Look how beautiful this scarf is!

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A close up of the scarf! Photo credit: Putney School

Opportunities like these not only help young people affected by HIV/AIDS escape from poverty, but also help them gain something of immense value: hope. By developing useful, life-long skills, and building self-confidence in the process, ISANO’s artisans are now looking towards the future with hopefulness, rather than despair. They are seeking new ways to grow their cooperative, generating innovative business ideas, and – to quote our long-time artisan partner, Emelienne – “dreaming dreams they did not know it was possible to dream.”

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First time weaving. Photo credit: Putney School

We are honored to work with these brave young people who are not only creating brighter futures for themselves and their families but also serving as role models for others – showing them that they too can take ownership of their futures.

Celine at the CHABA workshop guiding a project beneficiary on how to use a weaving loom.

Celine at the CHABA workshop guiding a project beneficiary on how to use a weaving loom. Photo credit: CHABHA

Celine, ISANO’s founder, is thrilled at all the progress that the members of ISANO have made. Her dreams for their future? “I want [ISANO] to influence other generations,” she says, “[I want them] to bring more people into this project and other projects like these so that all young people who do not have opportunities can have the chance to become financially independent.”

We couldn’t agree more and are deeply excited to continue to work with and support ISANO and CHABHA in the years to come, helping more young people to develop life-changing skills.

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Rainbow colored thread – a metaphor for the bright future these artisans are making for themselves. Photo credit: Putney School

ISANO Loom 2

Close up of an ISANO loom. Photo credit: Indego Africa

ISANO Scarf

A finished product! Modeled, photographed and now for sale online! Photo credit: Indego Africa

You can learn more about Indego Africa and the ISANO collection here.

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