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Rwanda Knits Update

Making a difference, changing lives.

by Staff Report (February 25, 2008)

The Rwanda Knits project is growing quickly with 17 associations having formed 28 knitting cooperatives around Rwanda. Within the next couple months, Rwanda Knits will become Rwanda Knits, Ltd, the first and only women-owned "Secondary Cooperative" (a for-profit "umbrella" cooperative business owned entirely by its members) in the country. Most of these women are the very poor and a significant percentage cannot read or write but they can knit.

Knitting has changed the lives of these women. From a meeting with representatives of many of the cooperatives, here are some examples:

1. One cooperative said their members are now able to purchase household items such as soap and can now shop at the local markets for food, whereas before they had to grow about half of what they can now buy.

2. Another group told how the younger women are now staying in the village to knit rather than having to leave to find work, often returning infected with HIV.

3. A third group told how they found out about a craft market being held for tourists and sold $60 (about two months' wages) worth of knitted goods their first hour.

4. And still another group told how knitting together in a group has helped each member talk about their problems and find solutions within the group.

5. Yet another told how their members are eagerly learning math skills to enable them to design knitting patterns. All this is in addition to the initial goal of earning an income.

When asked what they needed most? It wasn't money, it wasn't more yarn it was training in quality control and in product development (design).

Per meetings late January, the government of Rwanda is focusing its efforts on sustainable businesses and cooperatives, especially for women and especially in crafts. UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) in Rwanda, a Rwanda Knits partner, is planning to use Rwanda Knits as the model for other women's craft cooperatives around the country. Other Rwanda government officials are looking at the project the same way.

Anyone who would like additional information on the project or who may be interested in joining Rwanda Knits' founder, Cari Clement (also the director of fashion and design for Caron International) on a future trip to Rwanda can contact her at cari@rwandaknits.org. The project's website is www.rwandaknits.org. Watch for Rwanda Knits in a sidebar of an article about Rwanda, to be being featured in the June or July 2008 issue of O! magazine (O as in Oprah).

(Note: Cari was honored for her work by HIA, the predecessor to the Craft & Hobby Association. To read previous Kate's Collage entries, click on the titles in the right-hand column.)

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