Genocide. It was a word I remember often hearing as I was growing up. By the late 90’s it was a familiar story to hear on the news even though I now wonder how much of it was actually covered. As a child, it was a scary thought that entire races could be wiped out just because they were hated. I’ll admit, as a child I worried about things many children didn’t. I cared deeply for people I didn’t know in a strange land I would probably never see, but I couldn’t stop thinking about these poor people.
I will never forget the way I felt when I watched Hotel Rwanda, the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed Tutsi refugees during their struggles in Rwanda. All of those feelings from my childhood came flooding back and for the first time I understood the severity of what had taken place all those years ago. Images filled my mind that the news had never shown and it still pains my heart to think so much could have been done that can never be changed.
It’s hard to imagine that in just three months, nearly a million people, 20% of the nation’s population, was massacred when tribal hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis turned into an ethnic slaughter. Neighbor killed neighbor in one of the worst genocides in human history. Once the violence ended many women were left in the ashes to recover from the emotional torment of having watched their fathers, husbands, and sons killed. What were they going to do now? They had never been the ones responsible for providing for their families, and now they were left to rebuild their lives with whatever family they had left.
Can you even imagine what that would be like?
Thankfully Rwanda is a much different place today than it was in 1994. Rwanda is now a country of hope, healing, and faith. Weaving baskets has become a way to rebuild from the ashes and a movement towards peace. Today women from both sides of the ethnic divide come together to weave baskets, and they have created an industry that supports thousands of Rwandan women and their families.
In 2005 Willa Shalit, a social entrepreneur, artist, and activist vowed to make a difference by helping the women of Rwanda. She showed the baskets to executives at Macy’s who then committed to selling the baskets and go into business with the weavers.
I recently received one of these baskets, and I have to say, it couldn’t have been more perfect for me. It is woven together with white and red thread, and while it matches my newly decorated living room perfectly, it was the symbolism of red blood and white peace and purity that I couldn’t seem to look past. My children don’t miss anything that happens in this house, so they were all curious when they noticed the new basket on our coffee table.
Of all the beauty, this basket has to offer the chance to tell my children the story of Rwanda is probably its most beautiful gift. History needs to be passed down from generation to generation. Even if that history is not our own, it possesses such power and should never be forgotten. As a child, I didn’t know what would become of Rwanda, so I feel very fortunate to be able to share the good news along with the bad. My children aren’t left to wonder like I was because they can see the beauty from the pain and sorrow.
I also want to teach my children that just because something is happening in a place that seems like worlds away, it doesn’t mean that we can stand up and actively take part in helping hurting people. I want them to grow up supporting peace, prosperity, and the entrepreneurial spirit.
Rwanda Path to Peace Baskets
I want them to know that much like Macy’s and their Rwanda Path to Peace campaign, we too support the women of Rwanda. While miles, languages, and cultures may separate us, we are all a part of a greater people. We are citizens of the world, and I never want them to take their eyes off of the “Big Picture”.
This year celebrates Macy’s 10-year commitment to Rwanda Path to Peace. The work they did with this initiative paved the way for their successful Heart of Haiti program. Watch this video to learn more:
This year Macy’s is featuring a commemorative basket woven to represent 10 years of peace and prosperity that you can purchase here. I think what I love most about the Rwanda Path to Peace program is not a charity. Don’t get me wrong, charity has its place and it an excellent gift to those in need. This is different. This program is a business initiative “trade not aid”, which means as long as baskets are being sold families are being provided for. It’s a never ending cycle of relief for Rwanda.
It is the longest-lasting program of its kind, impacting thousands of women throughout Rwanda, their families and communities. With their earnings, women can now send their children to school. They can buy everything from soap to land, malaria nets to health insurance. The income they earn from their handiwork has helped rebuild their communities. One of the first things a weaver does when she sells her first basket is buy soap. The next thing she does is buy shoes and pay school fees. Many weavers today have seen tremendous improvements in their lives. These weavers earn roughly ten times the average Rwandan wage. Can you even begin to imagine how powerful that is?
What will you do? Will you share the story of Rwanda with your children? Will you watch one of the many movies or documentaries to learn more? Will you purchase a basket from Macy’s? I would love to hear your story. Do you remember hearing about Rwanda on the news? How did it affect you?
This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.