“Our folk art expresses the appreciation and preservation of traditional Rwandan art passed on from one generation to the other. It’s also important because women of Rwanda are using the work as a means to earn a living for their families.” Expresses Janet Nkubana, founder of the Gahaya Links Cooperatives.
Janet Nkubana spent her childhood in a refugee camp in Uganda where she learned firsthand what it means to be poor and hungry. When she returned to her native Rwanda after the devastating genocide of 1994, she encountered scores of women, most of them new widows, facing the same challenges. She helped these women—Hutu and Tutsi—organize into a basket-weaving cooperative, Gahaya Links.
“I realized that this was an opportunity not just for women to earn money, it was an opportunity to build peace,” says Nkubana. “It was a chance to help heal the wounds from the genocide and war. It did not matter if one woman’s husband had killed another’s. I said, ‘Don’t we breathe the same air? Speak the same language? Don’t we all love our children? Let us just weave and try to put the past behind us.’ “
Weaving is tradition and part of the culture in Rwanda. All girls learn how to weave. The art form is
passed on from mother to daughter for so many generations. Parents inspire their children. The group uses sisal, papyrus, bamboo and sweet grass, all of which grow locally, to make their intricate baskets. Janet explains, “The uniqueness of our work differentiates us from other cultures. Our designs, workmanship and shapes only relates to Rwanda.”
Gahaya Links Cooperatives contributes to improving the quality of life for the women artists. Janet explains, “Making and selling our art has enabled so many families in Rwanda afford descent meals, send their children to school with all school materials, they can afford to pay family health insurance through Rwandan program of universal health, buy mosquito net to avoid malaria and also access clean water. Our work has helped both isles of genocide come together and found time to ask for forgiveness and this has played a pivot role in Rwanda unity and reconciliation.”
Janet has dedicated her life to the work of Gayaha Links. When asked about the most beautiful part of her works, she responded, “The resilience of our folk art in history, the intricate designs of Rwanda origin and high quality of the products that we produce.”