Behind the Scenes of All Across Africa!

By:  Taylor

While Modeste, Kristine, Ellie, Alison, and the weavers are busy at work in Rwanda and Burundi, we have staff at the San Diego office that keeps the day to day market-delivery operation running smoothly. We have been at the office for about one year now and we are still working every day to make the new space feel like home.

I was recently tasked with bringing a little bit of Africa and our love for our partners to our conference room. Cameron Karsten, a fantastic photographer based out of Washington, took wonderful photos of our partners, during his trip with us in East Africa. We decided to place some of these photos of the men and women on the wall.

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day tasks. Now whenever we are meeting, we can’t forget the faces of those we serve and why we do what we do! Since we cannot always be with the artisans, our new wall allows us to engage with them from another part of the world.

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We also mounted a chalkboard on the wall with Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world” as all of the staff are living out what it means to be a change in the world through our rewarding careers.

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The new décor in our office are fun additions to continue to connect us to the people behind the products.

Our beautiful basket walls showcase two unique and fun ways to decorate open spaces. One is very symmetrical and organized while the other is asymmetrical and flows across the width of the wall.

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As far as the day to day outside of our office décor, Bryan, our General Operations Manager, works hard every day to fill your product orders and oversee the day to day warehouse operations. No two days are the same at All Across Africa!

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We’d love to hear from you about how you use your baskets to decorate your homes or offices.  Send us your photos on facebook or to info@allacrossafrica.org

And, as always, check back soon for new products, decorating ideas and ways you too can personally connect with the men and women in Africa!

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Tales from an All Across Africa French Intern in Rwanda

Alison, an All Across Africa intern originally from France, writes about her experience interning for us in Kigali, Rwanda!

Hello! My name is Alison Cabaret and I have been an intern in the All Across Africa office in Kigali, Rwanda for more than two months now. My internship is scheduled to end after one more month and I do not want to see the end of this adventure.

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As part of my Master’s in International Business, the choice of my final internship was crucial. I wanted it to be challenging and inspiring. Because I had never been to Africa before, I did not know exactly what to expect. I am delighted to have landed in a welcoming and beautiful country with remarkable people.

I found the grail in AAA.

The atmosphere in the office is warm and gratifying. Everyone is very patient and attentive. At every Monday staff meeting, we all sit together and share what we did the past week and what challenges there are for the next. Thus, our tasks are well defined and I’ve learned that we all want to be team players.

I especially love that in this internship I am tasked with multiple, interesting projects at once. I’m working on projects that are in line with my university studies, such as supporting the finance and accounting department of the Kigali office.

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I am also getting the opportunity to see every aspect of this Benefit Corporation grow through various projects. For example, we are currently trying to implement a dye process for the paper beads in Uganda. I really enjoy doing the preliminary research and sharing my ideas with others in the field.

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During many of my days I am working with the weavers. I get to meet their friends, their children, and hear their stories. I particularly remember the testimony of Cristilla when we went to Dyimana. It is just one of the compelling stories of the heroes that we are working with.

I see how hard the members of AAA are working in Rwanda to send these beautiful handmade products to the US. Knowing I am working for this great cause gives me the energy to always try to work harder. This internship has been empowering, challenging and exciting all at the same time. I’ve learned to be proactive and help as much as I can.

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In addition to this outstanding work experience, living in Kigali is very stimulating and exciting. Kigali, known as ‘The land of a thousand hills,’ is breathtaking in its beauty. We are living in another culture, with a different rhythm and a vibrant atmosphere.

My internship is not yet over, but I can affirm that I have already learned that there are some things that years of university study cannot compensate for. My internship has shown me that theory is far different from practice, especially where human relationships are concerned. Since human beings are all so different, there is just no possible way in which all circumstances and situations can be treated similarly.

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This experience is evidence that change is possible. I see how many people are committed to supporting rural and marginalized communities in East Africa and it brings hope. I’m happy, proud, and thankful to contribute to these sustainable projects that effectively change the lives of these men and women.

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A Powerful Reminder of the Beauty, Compassion and Selflessness in the People We Serve

As you may know we held a Weaver Celebration for 2013 in January of this year. C.E.O Greg Stone was in country and it was a powerful and moving day spending time rejoicing with the weavers over the successes and hard work they achieved in 2013. All gathered together in one hall, the atmosphere charged with pride and camaraderie.

Little did we know that just across the hill there was a very different story unfolding. A new mother, distraught and terrified, sinking with a feeling of helplessness and fear made the heart-breaking decision that she could no longer care for her child. Faced with a lack of social and medical support her only option is to abandon the child. And so left him, alone, under a bush on a beaten path.

Back at the weaver celebration the event is coming to an end, the dancing is winding down, everyone has had some food and a Fanta, numerous photographs have been taken and it’s time to say goodbye, wish each other well and encourage each other in the tasks of the year ahead. Leaders huddle together taking the last opportunity to share stories and co-operative advice as the members call out their farewells to each other.

One of those weavers was Donatile. An elderly weaver with a now grown up family. Aged 65, she hasn’t got the best eyesight, but she enjoys the friendship of the other weavers she is in a co-operative with and what she does manage to weave helps contribute to her household finances, keeping her fed and warm.

As Donatile begins the long journey back to her village, she crosses over many hills and travels many paths. Along one of these paths she hears the cry of a new born baby. Looking around she can see no one else and wonders where could the sound be coming from. Searching along the way she sees the baby, bundled up in rags and hidden under a bush. He has been drenched in rain and is shivering with cold. Her heart surges with pity and compassion for this abandoned child, left out in the bush, alone as night begins to fall. She picks him up, holding him tight and warming him to herself as she rushes on through the evening landscape determined to help him and get him to the nearest clinic.

Six months later, she arrives at the Basket house for Dye day, with a small bundle strapped to her back. The weavers who know her story embrace and greet her and the baby with great respect, those who haven’t yet heard huddle round in amazement as she begins to tell the tale. As she speaks, her face beams with pride and affection for baby Daniel – an apt name to match his story of survival in the face of danger, his own personal lion’s den.

Daniel and Donatile’s tale is one which truly reflects the strength of compassion and community spirit in the co-operatives and regions in which we serve. Though orphanages are available, Donatile’s instant love for Daniel means that he will grow up with a mother, a family, and the support of community. All Across Africa and all of the weavers we work with are so proud of Donatile and the selflessness and love she has found within herself to save this tiny life. As his self appointed carer she feeds him, clothes him and even at the age of 65 carries him the traditional way on her back. The future I am sure will see her educate and support him as he grows into a strong and loving son.

She will with certainty have our support and that of the other Weavers in order to achieve her dreams for Daniel. That’s what community and partnership means to us.

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Tales from an All Across Africa Account Manager in Rwanda

I spent two years in the US Peace Corps working in Malawi and haven’t been back to Africa since. So after nearly 24 hours of traveling, arriving in Rwanda to the warm hug of Ellie, AAA’s Production Director, I was exhausted and thrilled to be back on the continent. We hopped in a taxi and travelled back to their home in Gikondo near the center of Kigali. Once at the house I met Alison, our newest intern, ate dinner, finally stretched out my legs (ugh, airplanes), and slept easily.

The next morning I shook off the jet lag (well, tried) and walked with Ellie and Alison to the office. After meeting the team and exploring a little I jumped on a minibus with Laura, a Rwandan production assistant – off on our way to Gashora, the home of one of AAA’s sewing cooperatives. The Gashora cooperative is made up of vulnerable youth-led households – strong youth who are creating new ways to support their families and be part of a supportive community. It was a wild ride on the motorcycle taxi (coined ‘moto’ for short) dodging in and out of traffic around twisty mountain roads – thankfully the law does require that every rider wear a helmet! Once there I was lucky enough to meet the newest class of sewing graduates and hear their stories of loss, growth, and success. They were all so appreciative and touched by the opportunity to work and collaborate with AAA. Through Laura’s translation I shared a bit about myself and my job in the San Diego office, hoping that I could encourage them to continue with their studies. I reminded them that everyone in the US office has them in their hearts and minds with each and every handbag we sell.

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After Gashora we visited Wariria, a small women’s group of genocide survivors that Ellie has been training to develop a special type of bracelet for our emerging markets here in the states. I spent some time chatting with Odette, the group’s leader, and learning more about the women and their history. It was both heartbreaking and heartwarming to learn about their difficult past and how they have been working to overcome.  I humbly shared my own history and position with AAA and how awed I was at all that they have achieved in their lives.

 

On a lighter note, I was also able to partake in the lesson and create my very own sweet grass and sisal bracelet. Although I was quite proud of my handiwork Ellie explained that it would certainly not pass the first stage of inspection – I still had some learning to do. The verdict is still out – I think it’s pretty good.

Ellie, Alison, and I finished up our night with a delicious dinner of goat and fish at a local restaurant in the city. Although the service always seems to take a little longer than in the States, the food was warm, filling, and delicious.

 

That weekend I explored the city with Ellie and Alison, bartering for souvenirs and goods to bring home to my family and friends. I got a taste of the expat life meeting Ellie’s friends that live in and around the city. It is wonderful to hear about all the people that have given up their lives in their home countries to come to Rwanda and dedicate their careers to helping others.

The workweek started with a visit to the Rwandan Genocide Memorial Center. At this exhibit they explain all of the history leading up to, during, and after the genocide that happened many years ago. The experience of visiting the museum, while being connected to the people who experienced it was powerful, moving, and beyond words. I would highly recommend it to anyone staying in the area.

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Tuesday was a day I was quite excited for – dye day at the basket house. Once per week AAA meets with the weaving cooperatives at our basket house in Gitirama to dye the sisal used to weave the baskets and to place the basket order for the following week. It was amazing to see how much hard work goes into making certain that each color is precisely right. By the end of the day there is a rainbow of colored sisal laying out to dry, bright neon orange to midnight blue, all ready to be weaved into a beautiful basket.

While in Gitirama I was able to meet with a few of the weavers who have had their lives changed greatly by AAA.  I was welcomed into their homes and they told me their stories of how difficult their lives were before the partnership. Both suffered many hardships and tough times before securing a good job and steady pay through their basket weaving. Before AAA they had no homes and no way to feed their children and now they have plenty of food, a new home, health insurance, and money to pay the school fees for their children. Although I had heard their stories through video and text it was much more powerful to hear it directly from their mouths, full of emotions. I’m full of gratitude for these women who shared a little bit of their lives with me!

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Last but certainly not least I got the opportunity to visit the Catch-Up School – a primary school that Rwanda Partners, AAA’s nonprofit affiliate, has been partnering with for many years. Rwanda Partners provides the pay for the teachers, the porridge for the students, as well as general financial support. I was on porridge duty – serving the porridge to almost 300 students who attend the school. After that I had the opportunity to greet each class, tell them a little more about myself and my role with AAA, and congratulate them on how far they had already come. The majority of these students have no homes, no food, and no foreseeable future. When attending the Catch-Up school they are not only provided a warm breakfast but an opportunity for a brighter future.

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Soon after the visit I was ushered off to the airport to catch my evening flight. As I waited for the plane to board I reminisced about the emotional and exciting journey the last 6 days had been. I am so lucky to work for a company who dedicates their existence to the wellbeing of others.  My heart continues to remain in Eastern Africa and with All Across Africa and I look forward to the bright future we will all share together.

Uriqozi! …or at least I think that’s how you say it!

 

A Celebration Day for the Books

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.

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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.
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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!