A Change of Art

At first, Nkubana shared what she could, and the families gratefully accepted. But eventually, the women brought Nkubana traditional agaseke baskets woven from sisal, raffia, and sweet grass in exchange for her assistance. That gave Nkubana an idea. She opened a small gift shop in the hotel where the women could sell their baskets and earn a living. This successful venture prompted the sisters, along with 20 to 30 women, to form the Gahaya Links weaving cooperative. Today, there are more than 4,000 members — including 300-plus men — organized across 52 savings cooperatives. 
The International Folk Art Market is one of Gahaya Links’ major outlets. Nkubana says the weavers’ income has enabled them to purchase basic necessities such as food, clothes, and blankets; send their older children to school; buy health insurance; and for the first time, save money. Some even pooled their savings to build 25 small houses for their neighbors, while others, emboldened by their new self-confidence, became community leaders.
But perhaps even more significant than the income is the healing that the baskets have fostered. Amid a divided Rwanda, Nkubana brought both sides — the Hutu and the Tutsi — together under one roof and told them, “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.”
Nkubana credits the demand created by the International Folk Art Market with facilitating the healing and, as a result, improving the lives of countless Rwandan women. “I want to encourage every supporter of the International Folk Art Market,” she says. “They see a few of us here, but they have impacted thousands and thousands of lives.”
Rangina Hamidi tells a similar story of the market’s impact. When Hamidi was 4 years old, her family fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, heading first to Pakistan and then the United States. 
In July 2002, she returned to Afghanistan to help women and founded Kandahar Treasure, the first woman-run business in Hamidi’s hometown of Kandahar. Hamidi’s employees earn a salary creating finely embroidered elaborate designs on bright textiles — an art form called khamak. 
Baskets can be woven from sisal, raffia, and sweet grass and have helped unite weavers from Rwanda
Baskets can be woven from sisal, raffia, and sweet grass and have helped unite weavers from Rwanda
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