MEMBERS of handcraft cooperatives in Mahama refugee camp have appealed to concerned authorities to help them get market their products to improve their lives.
They say that much as they are encouraged to be creative and innovative, they do not have a market to sell their products.
“Our products have attracted visitors who come to this camp and buy some, but it is not enough,” said Francine Mukarugamba, who heads one of the weavers’ cooperative.
“We make many products but most of them go unsold, they are stored and we keep weaving,” she added.
Mahama camp, located in Kirehe District, Eastern Province, is home to over 49,000 Burundian refugees and has over 60 cooperatives each having between 15 to 20 members, according to the camp management.
Members make various handcrafts including modern baskets, bed sheets, and table mats among other products.
Mukarugamba says that sometimes it is even difficult for them to get some raw materials and appealed for support.
“We can do a lot and even though we are refugees, we can make a lot of money and live a better life. All we need is support to get a market and more raw materials to produce quality products,” she added
She said they are making products reflecting the Burundian culture but most of them are similar to what Rwandans make but needed more training to make more and better quality products.
According to Paul Kenya, the head of the field office at UNHCR in Kirehe who oversees Mahama camp, the women co-ops have got clients and confirmed that plans to look for a wider market were underway.
He said initially the cooperative were formed as a forum to bring together women who were once victims of the conflict in their home country to discuss daily issues affecting them and their children and find solutions.
They include healthcare for the children, post care services, reproductive health, and nutrition among others.
“There is no organised market as previously we were not engaged in mass production,” admitted Kenya.
“We have contacted Indego Africa which finds market for handcraft products and the latter will train women so that they make products of higher quality which it will buy and sell to the outside market,” he added