Stories from Rwanda: Solange

When I first became a Noonday Collection Ambassador in 2012, we celebrated the graduation of 11 ladies from sewing school, who later formed a co-op called “Umucyo” (in Kinyarwandan that means “Light”).  I’ve known their faces and names ever since, and shared their stories whenever I could.  I’ve dreamed about meeting them in person… and last month that dream became a reality when I traveled to Rwanda for 10 days with 7 other women from Noonday Collection!  The ladies of Umucyo sew beautiful bags made from brightly colored Dutch wax print cotton and they’ve found community and redemption through their employment.  This is just one of the many stories from our journey.

She sat patiently while all of her friends had their nails painted and their hair done.  Content to go last, Solange didn’t seem to mind the wait.  The Umucyo ladies had arrived at the salon early in the morning wearing their favorite outfits.  They were surprised to learn that we were treating them to manicures, pedicures, and hair treatments, and then eating lunch together at a nearby restaurant!




Our knees were nearly touching as we sat across from each other.  Without a common language to speak, the best we could do when the translator walked away was speak the universal language: smiles and laughter. I playfully picked up one of Solange’s hands and pretended that I was giving her a manicure, imitating the aestheticians next to me.

photos by Jennifer Jensen
She giggled and leaned on her friend Serapia next to her, and then gently pulled her hand away from mine.  Looking up for someone to translate, she began to explain, “My wrist was broken many years ago.”

Immediately I apologized if I had hurt her, to which she waved her arm in dismissal.  The room grew silent and time seemed to stop as she continued her story.  “It was the genocide.  They were running after me and I fell to the ground.”  Solange held out both arms and made a motion to show how she braced for impact with her hands. “I didn’t see the cliff there and I fell.  There were many of us running from them.  I lay on the ground for a long time and hid.  So my wrist stayed in this position and healed like that.  It still hurts sometimes and it’s hard for me to sew.”  Not sure what to say, I took both of her hands in mine and kissed her left wrist, wishing it to be healed.

photo by Sarah Ling
As we traveled through Rwanda, I tried to remember that every single person we encountered was impacted in some way by the genocide in 1994.  Anyone over the age of 21 was alive then.  Many have relocated from the surrounding countries of Tanzania, Uganda, DRC, Burundi, or Kenya where their families fled: either during the 1959 genocide or 1994.

Oh, so much hurt in one place… and so much healing.  What we saw in the faces of the Umucyo women was not sorrow, but JOY and HOPE!  Many of them were single mothers and several had taken in children who lost their parents.  They are strong, determined women who often travel over an hour each way to the sewing co-op, taking multiple buses to get there.

Never a complaint on their lips, always gratitude.

Solange: “I am so thankful for Noonday Collection for helping me have this job. Before, my kids suffered so much from hunger and I could not pay school fees for all of them. Now because I am earning, they are well fed and they are all in school.”

Mary Sunshine: “I want to tell you that we can thank God and wish you to continue praying so that we may continue with this job…. And we have this vision to increase (hire) more ladies.”

Bella: “I am thankful to be here.  I really needed this job.”

Friends, if you’ve ever purchased a Noonday Collection piece, or even better, created a marketplace by hosting a trunk show, this gratitude is for you!!  Every time we make a clothing or accessory purchase, we can choose to use our money to make a difference in someone’s life.  Not by giving a handout, but by empowering women who are using their skills and talents to create something by hand to sustain their families.

   

photos by Sarah Ling
 If you would like to know more about hosting a trunk show or becoming Noonday Collection Ambassador, feel free to email me at shannon.riesenfeld@gmail.com!  And as always, you can purchase unique, handmade accessories that are life-giving and life-changing here.

Want to support the Umucyo women in particular?  They make gorgeous Beach Bag that can be used in so many ways… at the farmer’s market, to carry library books, as a gym bag… the possibilities are endless!

In Style & Love,

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