Since 1994, Rwanda has been plagued with memories of slaughter, injustice, and genocide. In April of that year a plane carrying President Habyarimana, a Hutu, was allegedly shot down by a Tutsi rebel group. Hutu extremists began their attack with the goal of destroying the entire Tutsi civilization; which at that time only made up of 14% of the entire Rwandan nation. By the middle of July 1994, almost 1 million people in Rwanda were killed due to the mass genocide.
Now, more than 20 years after the horrific event, people like Jacqueline Musabyimana, a Rwandan native, are still picking up the pieces to their lives. “After genocide in 1994, we lost many members in the family, and life was difficult,” Jacqueline said about the aftermath. Tragically her father was a victim of the genocide, and so a young Jacqueline was sent to live in Kayonza with her mother’s family. She was able to finish her primary schooling, but she could not afford the tuition for secondary school. And so, Jacqueline was left to manage the majority of housework in her family’s home.
When Jacqueline began a family of her own, things began to turn around in her luck. But being that her husband was the only one generating income, it was still difficult to make ends meet. “I was depending on income from my husband, but he didn’t have enough. I couldn’t even send my children to school or pay rent,” Jacqueline recalled. “When my children and husband got sick, it was difficult to go to the hospital.” Having no formal secondary education, and no real practical skills outside of home life, Jacqueline did all that could with what she knew: childcare and house chores. In the grand scheme, those roles are among the most important any person can do for their family, but unfortunately it doesn’t pay the bills.
Auspiciously, Jacqueline’s was soon to change for the better. With help from their local pastor, Jacqueline and other women from her church learned how to create different products from weaving banana leaves. Soon the women began to build a community with each other through their artwork, creating beautiful clothing, fashion accessories, and jewelry all from banana leaves. “We share artistry, we share life,” Jacqueline explained about her art community.
In 2011, a United States-based startup company called Songa Designs International, a socially-conscious, for-profit brand, came to Jacqueline’s village and saw the artwork these women were creating. Songa Designs strives to empower women, as their website further explains, “Our mission is straightforward. Songa exists to create jobs for skilled women in under-resourced countries so they can earn their way to economic independence.”
Thanks to Songa, Jacqueline has been able to by her own plot of land, build a house on said land, and even buy a cow and goat. Her family has come quite a long way from not being able to pay rent, to owning their own land. And after decades of sacrifices, Jacqueline is now the president of the Twiyubake (to rebuild ourselves) Banana Leaf Cooperative. She has high hopes of becoming an entrepreneur with her artisan skills, and is currently being tutored in English to better help her in the international business realm. Just another prime example of what wonders our natural resources can do for us, our families, and our communities even in the face of genocide.