This is one aspect of my mandate at the Jesuit Refugee Service of Malawi. Umoja wa Wanawake Crafts is a group of women who are refugees from DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda, who have formed a union of women that produces traditional woven baskets and paper bead products. Currently, there are over 50 women participating, and they meet at the JRS Women's Centre every Monday and Wednesday to work on their crafts together and chat. Not only is Umoja Crafts a way for the women to help support their families, it also provides them with a community of women with similar experiences that they can share life with. It is an amazing group of women and the crafts are absolutely gorgeous!
The crafts are very labour-intensive and the ladies put a lot of work into making sure that they are creating quality items. The paper bead products, for example, are strips of magazines and posters that are cut into long, narrow triangles, rolled around a nail, and the end is glued down. Then, the beads are sorted by colour and size, strung onto nylon line and dipped in varnish to make them more durable. After a week of drying time, they are unstrung and restrung in various patterns. The weaving involves collecting the fibres of a succulent called sisal, making long tails of it, and sewing around it as they shape it into the form of the object they are making. The colours on the woven items come from the food sacks that are given out by the UNHCR and Red Cross - these are taken apart, sorted by colour, and used as thread.
The difficulty with the craft group is that their products do not sell within the camp, and it has therefore been the role of various JRS staff and volunteers to attend sales and source shops to sell the crafts within Lilongwe and other regions of Malawi. They are becoming known in the Lilongwe area, and there is even an American fair trade shop, Dsenyo, which has begun to carry some of the Umoja products.
Last year, Gina, the INDEVOUR who worked with JRS, created a beautiful website featuring Umoja Crafts - please take a few minutes to learn more about the women I am privileged to work with over the next eight months here.
I am extremely excited about getting to work with these lovely ladies and hope that we will be able to work the cooperative into a more self-sustaining organization.
Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.