Sunday, December 27, 2009

Path to Peace Project

A national morning news show presented a segment about Macy's partnership with women basket weavers of Rwanda. For the history of how this relationship developed, we went to Macy's web page.

In 1994, Rwanda was torn apart by a brutal and swift genocide—in roughly 100 days, close to one million Rwandan citizens were murdered. In the aftermath, the population of this small African nation was nearly 70% women. Faced with an uncertain future, these women turned to their past and reclaimed their unique heritage of weaving. Drawing strength from this common history and ancient art form, brave women from both sides of the conflict organized groups of weavers, in an effort to rebuild their communities and their lives...together.

September of 2005 marked the realization of a collaboration between Gahaya Links (the Rwanda weavers), Trade Winds Trading, Inc. (an import, marketing, and consulting firm which established quality control standards), and Macy’s. In that month, Macy's introduced the very first Path to Peace Baskets. Shown in the photo on the left is a pagoda-shaped Peace Basket (upper left). To the right and diagonally is a Black and White 12" Rwanda Fruit Bowl identified by the “Nova” pattern. Continuing diagonally is the black and beige Rwanda “Journey” Large (16") Fruit Bowl (also see photo below) and the red and white “Spirit” Bowl (also see second photo below).

We found this display at Macy's in Scottsdale (AZ). The fruit bowls are made by wrapping thin strands of sisal around bunches of sweetgrass to form a continuous coil and then sewing the coil together as it wraps around itself to form a bowl.

Though relatively small, the 2005 collection was met with an enthusiastic response, quickly selling out online and gaining national media attention.

Within a year of initiating the program, the Path to Peace Project was employing over 2,500 weavers and impacting tens of thousands of lives. The sale of the baskets provided real, sustainable income to rural women who had never before earned money in their lives.

Two of the baskets shown in the photo on the left are the Rwanda “Rare Earth” Fruit Bowl and

the Rwanda “Scarlet Sun” Fruit Bowl.

The Rwanda Path to Peace Project focuses on trade, not aid. In fact, Gahaya Links would not accept financial aid from Macy's.

In just the first couple years of the Project, some of the benefits have been: many villagers have water purification tablets or bottled water, individuals are able to purchase mosquito netting to reduce malaria rates, and a program of medical insurance has been instituted.

Also, increased nutrition information and access to medication have improved lives of HIV-positive weavers, and the Project has returned a sense of pride to HIV-positive weavers since they now earn an income and are respected in their villages.

We think the most important benefit of the Project is represented by the bowl that we purchased. The "True Unity" Basket. We see "three lines representing the three peoples of Rwanda: Tutus, Tutsi, and Twa. They move together, following parallel paths, together rebuuilding a national sense of unity and purpose."

Before we could determine where best to display this work of art, O.R. Deal decided upon a more practical use of the basket.

His preference was short-lived.

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