Azizi Life is a Rwandan social enterprise focused on maximizing economic opportunity for rural artisans through the development and promotion of their craft. Azizi Life partners with over 20 independent groups in Rwanda – supporting a total of 247 artisans. They offer them fair prices, as well as design coaching, to women and men who have chosen to go beyond subsistence farming and use their creative skills to build a better life for their families. Rising from the horrors of genocide, artisans from all backgrounds have joined together through their art to create a better future. With their sustainable and fair income, parents are caring for the health, nutrition, and education of their children, families are building better homes, and women are rising out of crippling dependency and raising their voices in their communities.
During 2007 and 2008, Food for the Hungry (FH) partnered with the Rwandan government to help train and promote small businesses within the rural communities of southern Rwanda. The idea of this initiative was to give local people the skills necessary to run successful businesses. Participants received training in areas such as improving literacy and financial skills, creating and writing business plans, and applying for bank loans.
Although this program was successful in significantly improving the skill and efficiency of the rural entrepreneurs, many continued to struggle financially. FH staff determined that the main problem was that the growing businesses simply did not have enough customers for their products and services. This lack of markets and disposable income within the rural communities was a real barrier to seeing significant small business development.
So FH began to look for ways to help the rural communities to access much larger markets. This, in turn, would increase the money available within those communities that could then be spent on other products and services, creating a cycle of development for the whole area. Out of this process, Azizi Life was born.
As a registered charity, FH was advised that it would be best to separate the buying and selling of crafts from its other development activities, and so in September 2008 Azizi Life was registered as an independent business in Rwanda, and began trading.
Azizi Life began by purchasing samples from a few artisan groups to get a feel for their levels of skill and areas of specialty. Initial sales were to Western visitors in Rwanda, who gave input on what products, colors, and designs they found most appealing.
Azizi Life products are all skillfully crafted from locally-sourced, natural fibers such as sisal, banana leaf, and forest grasses, highlighting the best of Rwandan traditional and modern design and locally sourced materials. Artisans and designers collaborate to create new designs, and our founder had the honor of spending time with the artisans in Rwanda, including visiting Florida at home with her family in Muhanga. We talked about how this work has changed her life and her ability to provide for her family.
Florida has said that since she has started working with Azizi Life, she can now buy soap and clothes, and pay health insurance. She and her family have also moved from their remote hillside home down in the valley where there was no road, and no electricity, and they have constructed a new mud brick home with electricity, cement , a ceiling and new nice chairs.
Azizi Life is committed to sustainability, collaboration, and putting people first. Founded in 2008 under the international NGO Food for the Hungry, Azizi Life has become a bridge to connect hardworking artisans to the global market. Azizi Life is committed to paying an agreed-upon fair wage to the artisans. The additional income from the sale of their art allows the craftspeople and their families to afford many things that they struggled to get before, such as medical insurance – improving health, school materials for their children – improving education, soap and other cleaning products – improving hygiene, a more balanced diet – improving nutrition, farm animals that provide manure – improving soil quality and crop yield, and financial independence- improving relationships with spouses and neighbors. Having the money available to invest in these kinds of things provides a real sense of security and hope for the future for the artist and her whole family. It is amazing just how much a community of people can benefit when they join together with a common purpose.
Many of the women we are working with have told us how isolated they felt before they joined an art cooperative. Now as they meet with others regularly, they have the opportunity to discuss their problems and provide support for each other. As the ladies sit together to weave or do some other artistic endeavor, they use the time to talk about all manner of things, from best farming practices to child rearing. It is a time when they are able to find mutual support and friendship which previously they did not have time for, as they worked full time in the fields and in their homes.
In one community, this level of closeness is used to even bring reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators of the tragic events of 1994 (the Rwandan Genocide). Pascasie Mukabuligo is the president of the Agaseke K’Amahoro Association. In 1994, most of her family members were murdered, most likely by their own neighbours. In the face of her tremendous loss, Pascasie has chosen to promote peace. Under her leadership, community members from opposite sides of the 1994 conflict have joined together to support one another in their art and their lives. Pascasie’s desire to see her community rebuilt goes even further than this, as she has actually gone into the local prisons to teach the offenders how to weave, so that in the future they will have a way to support their own families.
This is community development at its most fundamental level, as people come together, work together and grow together.
We are thrilled to be partnering with Azizi Life to bring you their gorgeous Rwandan woven designs. Shop Azizi Life products now!