Walking from several miles away on a sunny morning, nothing could stop the basket weavers from attending one of their favorite annual events. They had been impatiently waiting for this day to come. Their highly anticipated event was the annual weaver celebration All Across Africa (AAA) organizes with the Rwandese basket weavers in order to the celebrate the previous year’s achievements while taking a look at the upcoming one. This year’s ceremony also included the presence of local government officers.
Over 1,500 weavers from 15 different cooperatives in the Ruhango and Muhanga Districts in the southern province of Rwanda gathered together for this year’s celebration.
Before the ceremony started, it was clear from the energy level of the crowd that the day was going to be electric. Requiring no formal instruction or direction, the weavers began to sing and dance in the hallways, being led by volunteers among themselves.
The emcee’s job of trying to get the crowd into a celebratory mood was easy as they had long been prepared for this event. Kicking off the day’s program, the emcee announced the official start of the third annual weaver celebration day which caused the crowed to cheer even louder. Next he welcomed and introduced the special guests including AAA CEO Greg Stone, his staff, weaver cooperatives and local Rwandan government officers.
On a day that many of the weavers considered a thanksgiving, every song, poem and speech performed by the weavers had a theme of appreciation for helping them fight extreme poverty in their families and community.
The service was mostly comprised of traditional songs performed by the weavers themselves. Different cooperatives turn turns singing and dancing the songs they had practiced for weeks. As they sang and danced, the crowd stood to dance with them. Kopa, the last cooperative to perform really got the crowd dancing in joy. If the MC had not quieted the crowd they would have kept on celebrating all day!
Weavers also shared their testimonies on how weaving and selling baskets has rescued their lives from disparity into hope. Vestine, a weaver from a cooperative revealed that through weaving baskets she was able to pay back a bank loan of 1,200,000 RWF (about $2,000USD) early and has managed to buy a motorbike which is also helping her to generate income apart from weaving baskets. This income has helped enable her to pay her children’s school fees, health insurance and also save money for future projects.
Annonciata, a weaver from the another group, was very happy to share how difficult life was prior to working with AAA. Paying health insurance and getting her kids to school were an inconceivable dream. But now with the money she earns from weaving, she is able to support her family by paying for her children’s school fees and health insurance.
Next it was time to hear from the many local government officials that were on hand.
In her speech, Irene, the President of the union of basket cooperatives, shared that she was very grateful for all of the achievements reached through their partnership with AAA. She took a moment to speak on behalf of all the basket weavers under her leadership in relaying that basket weavers working with AAA no longer have to depend financially on their husbands as they did before. The women are now able to contribute to the development of their families through money earned from selling their baskets. Irene was grateful to AAA for not only purchasing their products, but also for providing life skills training on topics such as financial management and how to save money for a better future.
Other government officials who were present also spoke. These included local officers who currently represent women and weaving cooperatives. In their speeches, they thanked AAA for its continued support in helping to fight poverty through job creation. They also seized the opportunity to urge all the weavers to be serious in what they are doing by improving the quality of their work and saving money for their own futures. The officials promised to maintain the partnership with AAA, and even suggested that in the future it would be exhilarating to see more men at the next weaver celebration. They encouraged the women to bring their husbands and men in the community to come join in and see how far the women have developed.
After the government officials spoke, the weavers were addressed by some of the AAA staff on hand for the day. Next to speak was Ellie, Rwanda production and design manager.
In her speech, Ellie shared her love and enthusiasm of getting to work so closely with the weavers. She mentioned that in the few months they have spent together, she is pleased with how hard they have worked. She lauded them for being fast learners and fantastic people. She concluded with the reminder that there is a hope for a brighter future through the weaving of baskets.
For CEO Greg Stone, it was the first time meeting with all of the basket weavers in one setting. After thanking the government officials who had traveled to attend, he took several minutes to acknowledge and thank the weavers for work well done. Greg added that he believed the quality of their baskets were the best in the world. In closing, he promised that this year would have a lot of great things in store for each and every one of the weavers AAA works with. Certainly encouraging words to convey to them that there were certainly more market opportunities being explored to continue to build on the transformation that is already taking place.
Once the speeches had concluded, it was time for the representational exchanging of gifts.
Gift giving is tradition in African culture, much like the rest of the world. The gifts given at the celebration were especially symbolic. Following kind words from Irene, the weavers union presented Greg with gifts to represent three important points:
- An Arrow (Fighting weapon): to symbolize how the company under Greg’s leadership has helped impoverished weavers to fight against hunger and poverty. Two things that had affected their families for too long.
- A Shield (Self-defense): to represent how the weaving of baskets has helped to overcome hunger which is the worst enemy of their past. Through generating income from selling their baskets they are now able to support their families.
- A Basket (Wealth): to symbolize that weaving has made many of them highly valued members in society brought wealth into their homes.
The ceremony concluded with one final group picture of all of the weavers, government officials and AAA staff who were present that day.
You can support the ongoing mission of All Across Africa by purchasing one of the beautiful woven baskets at one of our traveling road shows or from our online store. Please like, comment, or share!