An Artist’s Path to Peace
I am an artist…in my soul, in my heart, and in every cell of my body. Not by will or by choice, I was born an artist. We are a blessed lot, as we know from an early age what our path will be. Being an artist is a gift from God. The gift, however, is not always an easy one to give. An artist’s path to peace is a solitary journey overcoming self-doubt and inner conflict. This post about finding a path to peace as an artist and is sponsored by Everywhere Agency; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace Initiative
Some artists struggle finding a path to peace with their gift. Out of a bitter genocidal conflict in Rwanda that left millions dead in 1994, Rwandan women artists found a way to heal using their gifts. Surviving women, from both Hutu and Tutsi tribes, somehow came together and created an industry weaving baskets. Today this industry supports thousands of families thanks to the Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace initiative.
Today I hold a beautiful handmade basket by a woman artisan of Rwanda. The basket has over 5,000 stitches carefully positioned to form the pattern. It is beautiful in design and amazing in craftsmanship. It adds a special energy to my home due to the efforts of American artist and social entrepreneur, Willa Shalit.
After the genocide, which tore the ethnic communities of Rwanda apart, the country was looking for any positivity that all sides could embrace. The art and craft of basket making has been part of Rwanda’s culture for centuries. The craftsmanship and artistry were celebrated across the ethnic divide. When Shalit showed the baskets to Macy’s, the Rwanda Path to Peace program began, and the basket became the path to peace symbol that all Rwandans could embrace.
In 1994, I was struggling to let go of a flourishing graphic design business in Atlanta to launch a dream of being a decorative artist. Unaware of what was happening in Rwanda, I toiled and labored at two jobs with an indefatigable spirit. I imagine this is the same sort of entrepreneurial spirit the women of Rwanda possess. Although my struggles in no way compare to theirs, I can relate as a woman, mother, and artist. Today, after many difficulties, I can say, “I too am confident, capable, and creative.”
In 2005, Macy’s made an enduring commitment to the women of Rwanda by launching the Rwanda Path to Peace program. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Macy’s unwavering pledge to sell the handmade Rwandan baskets and support the woman artisans. The work they did with this initiative paved the way for their successful Gifts That Give Hope and Heart of Haiti program, which I have written about here and here and here. Watch this short video about the history of the Rwanda basket program:
Rwanda Path to Peace is one of the first ‘trade not aid’ programs. The weavers earn roughly ten times the average Rwandan wage. An added benefit is that these baskets have not only led to peace between the Hutu and Tutsi, but also between men and women. Domestic violence has decreased immensely, due to the fact that the men have a new respect of women as wage earners. It allowed women to have increased personal power in a formerly male-dominated culture. This has led to greater stability in the country.
Macy’s Commemorative Basket
Macy’s is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda Path to Peace program with a commemorative basket, woven to represent 10 years of peace and prosperity. I cannot wait to hold the red and white commemorative basket and make it part of my home.
The Craft Passed Down Through Generations
The weaving of the baskets is an extraordinarily intricate process that has been practiced for centuries in Rwanda. Each design is unique and painstakingly crafted from sisal and grass by women who learned to weave from their aunts, mothers and grandmothers. This short video shows the process of making the baskets:
Rwanda Path to Peace is now the longest-lasting program of its kind, impacting thousands of women throughout Rwanda, plus their families and communities. With their earnings, women can now send their children to school. They can buy everything from soap to land, and malaria nets to health insurance. The income they earn from their handiwork has helped rebuild their communities. One of the first things a weaver does when she sells her first basket is buy soap. The next thing she does is buy shoes and pay school fees. Many weavers today have seen huge improvements in their lives. I have featured three weavers below. Listen to their amazing journeys to finding a path to peace as an artist.
Learn more about the Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace program:
CNN – Rwanda Path to Peace
WSJ Blog – Path to Peace Baskets
Story about Janet Nkubana, who runs the Rwanda Path to Peace program