Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities features compelling stories of women around the globe who are working to improve their lives and the lives of their community members by creating and selling folk art as members of grassroots cooperatives. One of those inspiring women is Ephigenia Mukantabana.

Ephigenia is a survivor of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, in which she lost 65 family members. In the aftermath of the genocide, Ephigenia had lost hope. Friends encouraged her to join the Gahaya Links weaving cooperative – a network of over 4,000 weavers across Rwanda – so that she could interact with other women and receive support. However, Ephigenia was hesitant to join because that meant meeting the wives, daughters, or sisters of her family’s killers. She eventually joined local weaving centers in order to earn income.

A master weaver, Ephigenia was quickly elected president of her home village’s weaving cooperative, which was part of the Gahaya Links network. Initially, people in her village didn’t believe she could instruct the relatives of her family’s killers, but she turned out to be a leader of change and reconciliation.

Ephigenia became the first Rwandan to publicly forgive the people who murdered her family. Her openness and forgiveness inspired other victims of the genocide to speak about their pain and loss, and to also forgive those who killed their loved ones. She’s quoted in Empowering Women saying, “Art heals the hopeless soul. And through interaction you reduce trauma. Weaving is hope for tomorrow.”

 Gahaya Links is renowned today for their “Peace Baskets,” which are displayed in Empowering Women. They are woven by women like Ephigenia Mukantabana, who put aside their differences to achieve unity and to empower themselves socially and economically.

Learn more about Ephigenia’s story and the Gahaya Links cooperative.

Top photo: Members of the Gahaya Links Cooperative at their Kigali workshop, weaving baskets, Rwanda, 2007. Photograph by Adam Bacher.

Bottom photo: A Peace Basket made by Gahaya Links artisans on display in Empowering Women

Post adapted from Gahaya Links Cooperative.

Empowering Women is generously sponsored by:

 

           

              The Loughridge Family     Judy Wenker