What I learned From "Mama" in Rwanda

So many trips start with an organized itinerary full of details that organizers have diligently coordinated. You think you know what you’re in for - day by day - who to meet, where to go, all nice and tidy.

The fun really starts with all the things that aren’t on the itinerary.

I had the privilege of selecting what I consider to be the golden ticket. When Beth asked if I would be interested in helping her in Africa as she visited her artisans, I jumped at the chance. Envisioning fresh designs, finding new products in markets, and photographing these amazing women was a real honor.

What didn’t make it to the itinerary happened as the sun was going down in the village of Byimana, a remote village outside of Kigali, Rwanda. Our driver lost his keys and spent an hour searching for them (no easy task since there were literally thousands of woven baskets crammed into a very small home). Ultimately, he realized that he locked his keys in the car. As he watched a quick video on using a coat hanger to unlock the car, we were invited inside to have tea. We hadn’t had dinner, it was getting dark, the roads in this remote village were emptying of people and bikes, as the bugs began to swarm. At this point we have no idea if we will have a vehicle to help us get back to our hotel in Kigali, 90 minutes away. It’s not like we can call an Uber here. We fear that we may be sleeping on the side of the road! It was unsettling to say the least.

Sitting down with the young man, Olivier, who had assisted us for hours as we worked through new woven finds, he poured us tea as he talked about his life and being raised by this woman, whom he calls Mama, who organizes the female artisans in the village.

With no tourists coming to visit during Covid, there were no markets and no orders to provide work for the villagers. Knowing that these artisans depended on money from basket making to provide for their families’ basic needs, Mama made the decision to keep these ladies working. She paid them from her own pocket and the result was an overabundance of stock (hence the reason keys might have been hard to find!). She purchased far more than she could easily sell, but the decision was one that she freely made so that these women could feed and clothe their children.

The concept of giving people the tools to lift themselves up rather than giving them a handout wasn’t new to me, but the practice in motion really crystalized the benefits of the concept. BraveWorks' mission globally is the same as Mama's mission in her village. Providing work for these women is life-changing and life-giving for them and seeing the mission in action made me all the more grateful to be a part of this special work. I've so enjoyed learning how community-based work can show love for these women and help them thrive.

Our driver eventually was successful in breaking into his car to retrieve the keys. A few hours late, we arrived back at our hotel, exhausted, but feeling so privileged to have been a part of this hiccup in our journey.

By Abigail Cancelliere

Comments (1)

  • J Denice von Gnechten on Apr 08, 2023

    Thank you, Abigail, for this beautiful glimpse into your journey to visit our BraveWorks’ sisters in Rwanda. Mama is certainly a treasure!

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