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Small Designs Magazine

Small Designs Magazine

Monday, May 19, 2014

A peek inside Africa – Rwandan home decor, jewels and baskets

As I searched for handmade products around the world, I came across beautiful baskets, jewels and home docor items from Rwuanda, Africa. They are made by local artisans by natural materials and are delivered around the world.

 Azizi Life is a comunity that gathers artisans from Rwuanda and helps them sell their products. Azizi Life isn’t all about selling items, its more about bounding people on different sides of the world.

Azizi Life is currently working with around 30 different independent groups of artisans. That means that about 280 artisans make handmade products every day.

Azizi was „born” during 2007 and 2008, when Food for the Hungry partnered with the Rwandan government to help train and promote small businesses within the rural communities of southern Rwanda. The idea of this initiative was to give local people the skills necessary to run successful businesses.

Talking in numbers, Azizi Life produced a total of 25,968 products last year.
Tom MacGregor, one of the core office staff of Azizi Life told me what is the purpose of Azizi Life and how did that change the rwandan artisan’s life.

What does an artisan have to do to enter in Azizi Life program?

Originally Azizi Life started with artisans that had been part of a training program run by the Rwandan Government for the rural communities in the Southern part of the country. As we grew we took on new artisans, who were producing products that were unique or different from the ones we already had groups making. We have worked with most of our groups of artisans for over five years now. We would like to take on new groups, however, we can not do that until we get our existing artisans, working up to their full potential and capacity. Therefore we really need to increase the sales so we can do this.

What are his or her benefits in entering Azizi Life?

We help our artisans, get access to the larger global market and we pay on average 3 times what the artisan would get from selling their products locally. To export and sell products in the US or Europe, you have to fumigate the products and ship them, you have to communicate with overseas customers, you need somewhere to warehouse and distribute from and if you want to sell online you need a bank account in the US or Europe because you can not connect the banks in Rwanda to paypal or any of the other payment systems. We also help the artisans, improve the quality of their products and design new products (using traditional skills) that will be desirable to the Western Markets. All of these things are barriers for the artisan

to be able to make and sell products to overseas customers, Azizi Life helps them bridge that gap. Azizi Life also runs some community development programs such as we have provided artisans with first aid training and we help those artisans that want it to buy solar lights.

Tom also has a blog on squido where he writes about the artisan’s handmade products and their lives. One of the story that caught my eye was about Alphonsine. She is a 35 year old woman with 11 children. See her story in this video.

What African materials are used for making the products?

Our products are made of Sisal, Banana Leaf, Local soft wood, forest & sweet grass and some African Fabrics. We also sell Imigongo art (in Rwanda only) which is made from cow dung.

Are the products made in a traditional African way?

The designs and products might be modern but, yes they are made using the traditional Rwanda techniques that have been used for many years.

 How do people buy the products?

People can buy our products in Rwanda at one of our two boutiques or they can purchase them online. We also sell products in the US via a catalog or via a few independent stores. We will be heading to the New York Trade Show in August and so we are hoping to find some more shops that can carry our products in the US.

  From what countries are your regular customers?

We have sold products in Rwanda, US, Canada, UK, Switzerland, Portugal, Ireland, Holland, Germany, Spain, Kenya and Hong Kong. We have regular customers in Rwanda, US, Canada and the UK. Although in Canada our products are only really sold through Global Mothers and in the UK we sell mostly to FH UK (Food for the Hungry UK) and Created.

How many tourists came in Rwanda to see the artisans and their products?

I am not sure how many specifically came to Rwanda to meet artisans. But in 2013 we had over 500 guests come along to one of our experience days.

Everyone who has come along on our experience days has loved it, Tom says. The tourist live with the artisans one day. They make baskets, see a traditional dance and eat traditional food.

„If you do one thing when you visit Rwanda, DO THIS! An Azizi Life Experience Day is a fun and affordable way to learn about the rural Rwandan culture through total immersion. Through working alongside the artisans, I was able to connect to them and come away with a greater appreciation for the “simple” things. I recommend the Azizi Life Experience Day to any person traveling in Rwanda that is looking for an unmatched, memorable, life-changing experience” – Ashley M from Conneticut

          You can read more about Azizi Life experience on Trip Advisor.


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