American volunteers support local artisans

It’s an ambitious goal: To end poverty among local artisans. A group of American volunteers has formed The Rwanda Fair Trade Artisan’s Association (RFTAA) which will give an alternative to the crafts shops in Kigali. The Association tries to pull all Rwandan artisans together and help them easily access the market for their locally made products.
L-R : Agaseke baskets made by RFTAA members ; RFTAA member at work.
L-R : Agaseke baskets made by RFTAA members ; RFTAA member at work.

It’s an ambitious goal: To end poverty among local artisans. A group of American volunteers has formed The Rwanda Fair Trade Artisan’s Association (RFTAA) which will give an alternative to the crafts shops in Kigali.

The Association tries to pull all Rwandan artisans together and help them easily access the market for their locally made products.

“The first of its kind, RFTAA provides artisans from all over the country with direct access to their customers. They will earn 100 per cent of the profits accrued from the products sold,” said Jo Mann, an American volunteer.

Mann said customers interested in buying RFTAA products will now know where to find them.

In the past, most artists especially in rural areas had a difficult time accessing the market.

They would either miss out on the growing tourist market completely or forced to use a middleman to whom they pay a large percentage of their profits.  Historically, there has been no space through which Rwandan artisans can directly access clientele. 

Ezechiel Murwanashyaka, an RFTAA member from Huye District says the association’s biggest huddle has been how to link up with the customers.

“In the past, it has been extremely difficult for us to access the market in Kigali. This has been solved,” Murwanashyaka said.

He says members would work day and night but the products lay idle or be bought cheaply. “We have over 100 members and we are mobilizing others to join the association,” reveals Murwanashyaka.

He advised members to look at art and craft work as an economic inflow other than a leisure activity since they earn highly out of it.

As for women, Murwanashyaka added that the problems in their homes will be solved without burdening their husbands.

The association which opened its outlet shop in Kiyovu last week has already attracted 21 associations.

“We did a lot of fundraising back in the United States and there was much interest generated from our friends and family so we managed to raise Rwf7 million ($12,000) which has enabled us start this project,” said Amity Weiss, another volunteer.

RFTAA is based on international standards of fair trade. The association serves as a platform to market access and branding for cooperatives and artisans from all over Rwanda.

Members themselves cover the operating costs of the association from the profit they earn. In addition, members build their business skills as they manage the organization and the retail space.

The association under the slogan “Rwanda, Nziza” meaning “beautiful”, was chosen as the name for the association since it captures the essence of not only the high-quality handicrafts but also of the remarkable and talented artisans who make them.

Members sell variety of products that are authentically Rwandan and of the highest quality. Some of the products include Agaseke baskets, aprons, beeswax candles, home décor items, laptop cases and local footballs.

In order to give the members a kick on the back, they do not have to pay rental fees for the next three months. It has already been paid by the volunteers.

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