Gahaya Links from Rwanda
In the tiny, land-locked country of Rwanda, ravaged by the 1994 genocide that created hundreds of thousands of widows, hope might seem hard to come by. But this conflict-ravaged place is also the home to Gahaya Links, a company with a vision of peace between Hutus and Tutsis, of employment and income for female heads of household, and of a brighter future for all.
Gahaya Links was founded in 2003 by Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana, two sisters who have found that the way to weave straw into gold is through fair trade. Gahaya Links works with 54 cooperatives throughout Rwanda, employing thousands of weavers, most of whom are women. Each cooperative is run by a democratically elected president, secretary, and treasurer -- literacy is the only requirement -- and each cooperative is structured so that Hutu and Tutsi weavers work side by side, promoting reconciliation as the country struggles to come back from its long nightmare.
"Our main achievement is seeing how the women we work with have changed from how they were [directly post-genocide] to how they are now." --Joy Ndungutse
Joy Ndungutse's designs are taught to master weavers from each cooperative, who travel to the headquarters in Kigali to learn new designs and techniques as they are decided upon. The master weavers then return to their cooperatives to teach the other weavers, thus fostering leadership and community as well as guaranteeing standardized quality.
In addition to the weavers' salaries, Gahaya Links puts one dollar into a savings account for each basket completed. The mandatory savings program has enabled the weavers to buy more nutritious food, pay for their children's education, obtain medical care, and afford to wear shoes. None of these things were possible on their previous incomes.
Through their dedication and work, Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana have created a flourishing business that is "weaving lasting peace," as their slogan states.