Beauty of Rwanda is a company that helps impoverished women, who lost their families and so much more during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, get back on their feet.
The firm is working to restore and heal the lives of the women by training them to make and help market authentic Rwandan handicrafts all over the world.
On Saturday, May 7, Beauty of Rwanda will host the “Only One Basket” Campaign in Kigali at the Kwetu African Cuisine located at house number 87 Caisse Hypotecaire, Kacyiru, Kigali.
The idea is to encourage people to buy at least one basket which makes a big difference to the lives of such vulnerable women.
Founded by Salha L Kayitesi and launched in the United Kingdom in March , the “Only One Basket” campaign is seen as yet another home grown solution geared towards tackling challenges that this country faces.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times’ RACHEL GARUKA, Kayitesi takes us through a bittersweet journey of triumph after tragedy.
Tell us about yourself
I was born in Kigali but my parents died when I was quite young. I moved to the UK in 2000 where I have been living since. I am fluent in five languages and I’m married with a four year old son.
What is the background of Beauty of Rwanda?
Beauty of Rwanda was mainly established because I saw that the women weavers are very talented but the challenge has been getting a ready market for their products. Most of the products like you see in town are bought not because of their beauty but because of the Rwandan traditional functions and few tourists came in so there wasn’t really a market for them. There is a market I know in the United States that has been going on for quite sometime but it hasn’t really gone beyond the United States. During my research, I found out that there are a lot of people who don’t even know about that market even in the United States.
What inspired you to start the company?
I have been touched by the lives of the weavers. Their cooperative lifestyle and efforts is inspiring. At the moment, I have a group of about twenty four ladies, they sit there with their children playing and running around. They have their differences but they put all those differences aside because they know they want to live a better life for them and for their children.
What difference does Beauty of Rwanda make to Rwandans?
I think in the long run, my aim was to try and end poverty as much as I can. I can’t say that I’m going to wipe it totally out but if I can change one person’s life, then it is definitely worth the effort. That said, one can see that at the moment, a group of twenty four women’s lives are being transformed. That is actually a good starting point for giving them hope for the future.
Tell us more about the ‘Only One basket’ campaign
After setting up the project website, I still had to think seriously about attracting buyers. We have joined twitter, facebook and the like but then you’ve got to give people a reason to want to buy your products. We have to explain that the products on offer are more than just mere products. The products are about touching and transforming lives that were previously broken by the horrors of genocide. Whether you buy twenty or a hundred, that is good because we want you to buy more but if we got everyone to at least buy one item, no matter what the item is, that would be a massive achievement in our endeavour of reshaping the lives of such women.
How well is the campaign being received both locally and internationally?
Locally, some people don’t understand it or maybe they do but don’t know exactly what we want them to do. We have been here for a week and since I arrived, the support we received from the media such as The New Times and some other people is simply overwhelming. There are things I probably would not have been able to do in order to reach to the whole Rwandan community if I was just an individual. But with the assistance of others, people are getting to know about what we want to achieve. We have launched the campaign on social media such as twitter and on Facebook, so most people already know what it is. But even with what has been done to sensitise people, I still get people saying “these things are for white people”.
While it is improper for us to try to sell a basket in Rwanda as a business when you already know that is where the products are coming from, however, all we want is for the Rwandan people to actually get to know that this is our campaign, this is for us. This means that if we support it, the whole world supports it. Why should the rest of the world support it when we ourselves are not supporting it? Is it because they do not know what it is all about? I think we should have pride in our unique handicrafts. Authentic Rwandan handicraft are lovely. I think that the skill, patience and the time that these women have put into weaving such products is just beautiful. In conclusion, one can say that internationally, the campaign is well received.
Who are the main beneficiaries of your project?
The weavers, because the more we manage to attract more buyers for them, the higher the prospects of transforming their lives. It is equally important to highlight the main reason why we are collaborating with the weavers. We buy from them, then we sell to our main markets in the west and everybody else. I have not just decided to sell authentic Rwandan handicrafts because some countries have much better crafts than ours. Take Kenya for example; if we are to talk about traditional jewellery, one can say that Kenya has better designs. If the decision was purely based on just merely selling to make some monetary gains, surely, I would go to Kenya or West African countries and buy from them because such sources are very well known and the products from such countries are well known. But it’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a difference in Rwanda.
What is your overall vision for Beauty of Rwanda?
I want it to expand and be big. I want to open up a shop and be able to have my own fully functional cooperative, like get other weavers to come and join. I want it to be more like a work place where they can always come and weave baskets obviously for the demand that is out there in the West. And then we can come back and just carry on but for them, I would like to see their lives improve. I would like to see maybe in three years time when I meet one of them, the children have gone to school and university, things that they are actually not able to do right now.