“Everytime that you buy a basket, know that there are about 10 people attached to your purchase.” – Janet Nkubana
My belief that we can create positive change through our purchase choices was further reinforced recently when I saw first hand the impact that “Trade not Aid” programs have on the communities in which they operate. Many of the gifts that I am giving this holiday season are things that I brought home from my recent trip to Haiti where I could see how much our purchases meant to the artisans supporting their families through their craft. In interviews with several of the artisans who create pieces for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti program each mentioned the pride in their work, and in being able to provide a sustainable income to support their families. They made it clear that even in tough times, they did not want charity, what they wanted was to continue to earn an income through their art. Giving gifts that help generate economic empowerment in communities where the need is great is really like giving twice, it becomes a gift that gives back. A gift that gives hope. In a way my trip to Haiti actually began in Rwanda with Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace program.
Rwanda Path to Peace was one of the very first “trade not aid” programs to be developed, replacing the idea of charity with a business initiative which all sides are incentivized to sustain.
Back in 1991 I had travelled through Central Africa and absolutely fell in love with the region. I was heartbroken when I heard the reports from the war that had broken out and left the country of Rwanda in despair only a few years later.
It had taken only three months of tribal warfare between the Hutus and Tutsis for nearly a million lives to be lost in an ethnic slaughter that wiped out 20% of the population. Many men were jailed or killed, often leaving the women of Rwanda as the sole breadwinners for their homes.
Weaving baskets became a path toward peace as women from both sides of the ethnic divide came together to create an industry. Today basket weaving supports thousands of Rwandan women and their families. Social entrepreneur, artist, and activist, Willa Shalit wanted to help the women of Rwanda to rebuild their lives and communities so in 2005 she showed the baskets to executives at Macy’s who committed to sell them. They went into business with the basket weavers of Rwanda, and so offered them a hand up, instead of a handout.
A year ago I was thrilled to attended the 10 year celebration of the Path To Peace Program at Macy’s in New York City. The below video shares the evolution of the Macy’s partnership with Rwanda Path to Peace and introduces some of the women whose lives it helped transform.
The partnership between Macy’s and the artisans in Rwanda, where basket weaving was a traditional art that had been passed down for generations, has helped the women there rebuild after the horror of war. To the weavers the baskets are messages of peace to the world, Macy’s has given a path to thousands of women in Rwanda to support their families and send their children to school. The weaving of the baskets, each with a unique design, is an intricate process and has been practiced for centuries in Rwanda. The basket weavers earn roughly ten times the average Rwandan wage, and with that income have been able to rebuilt their communities.
Due to the success of the Rwanda Path To Peace Baskets initiative Macy’s executives knew immediately how they could help when Haiti was devastated by the massive earthquake in 2010. The Heart of Haiti line was created in partnership with Haitian artisans to help them rebuild. The Heart of Haiti line has now been successfully sold in Macy’s stores for six years. On our trip this past October to visit the artisans who create products for the Heart of Haiti line we were able to see the positive impact that the partnership has had over the years.
The beautiful hand crafted Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace and Heart of Haiti ornaments that decorate the tree in our home represent more than just the beauty that they bring. These are not just beautiful gifts, but gifts that bring joy while also helping others. Now that I had the opportunity to personally meet some of the artisans whose lives are touched each time one of their creations is purchased, I know that sometimes even the small things can collectively have a big impact. My heart is especially warned by the golden Rwanda Basket ornament that symbolizes a path to peace for Rwanda as as the beginning of my own incredible journey to see the artisans at work and watch them transforming their lives through art.
I was sent the gold basket ornament made in Rwanda as a gift from the Macy’s Path to Peace line. I wrote this post because this program is personally meaningful to me and as always, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.