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December 24th, 2009
11:15 AM ET

Gift #5: Weaving unity

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

To repair a country after a genocide, in a nation like Rwanda, where the killers and the survivors still live in the same neighborhoods, takes a lot of time, to say the least.

It takes longer than the hundred days that it took the men with machetes to kill at least 800-thousand people in the spring of 1994.

Remember what Janet told us about master basket weaving. It takes time too.

"Through weaving,” says Janet, “we've brought back our culture. We've restored talking. Families are forgiving each other."

I was skeptical that weaving could foster such reconciliation.

“It was difficult at the beginning, to have both aisles of the genocide under one roof. At first," says Janet, "some were not talking to each other."

Janet recalls moving to Rwanda after the genocide and visiting the town her parents came from. One of her former neighbors remembered how Janet's mother used to invite her in for milk. That woman's brothers are now in prison for their role in the genocide.

A woman makes the base of a basket at a workshop where Hutus and Tutsis work together.
A woman makes the base of a basket at a workshop where Hutus and Tutsis work together.

So what allows these people to face each other again? Janet says it comes down to what they share: poverty.

The aggressors and the victims both still struggle to feed their families. Weaving baskets, together, gives each a road to independence. Each is thankful. "At least I'm not a beggar" they say to themselves.

And there is a bigger force at work. Janet calls it "The Rising of the Rwandan Women."

Janet’s thriving basket business, she says, is just one example of The Rising.

“We women have gained respect,” she says.

Referring back to one of her basket designs, she adds: "We have come out of the backyard. We have gone beyond the borders of the backyard." She has a basket design for that new backyard with fewer borders. The borders that contain those secrets between women still remain though.

Given the tradition of Rwandan women of different tribes, Hutus and Tutsis, weaving together and talking together and taking time together in their backyards, how could the genocide have happened, I asked her.

She blames it on the leaders who instigated the killings. Of course, that's not the whole answer.

"It is always a puzzle to understand why– to understand what went wrong in peoples' minds."

"But, as you see," she continues, referring to the stunning display of Rwandan artistic collaboration, "people have gone beyond history and are becoming sisters again."

Go here to learn more about Janet's basket weaving collective and how you can make a difference


Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. randi clarkson

    Thank you for such an inspirational story. Truly the best knowledge,

    if we could only spread this love and knowledge and cease the

    two wars our countries are involved in. Is it possible to see the

    baskets on line and purchase them? Love and hope to Janet

    and her women in the backyard weaving 'club'. We could

    all learn so much from their courage, wisdom, strength,love

    and friendship. Thanks again!!!!!!!

    December 26, 2009 at 9:15 pm |
  2. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Much peace and love to my African ancestors, we are one.

    December 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  3. Vicky, Ottawa

    Thanks Michael for these gifts of knowledge through your conversations with Janet. The baskets are beautiful! These are the kinds of blogs I so appreciate from AC360. There's such a depth to how the people have experienced such hardship and challenges, and yet, out of it, have been able to find a positive direction, and the incredible sense of community among the women.

    December 24, 2009 at 5:09 pm |
  4. Betty

    If those who believe they possess power over others could only follow the ages old Christmas sentiments of "Peace on Earth" and "Joy and Goodwill to all people" – they would truly be powerful great men! Love to the basket weaving women of Rwanda – you must bond together and you will change history

    December 24, 2009 at 3:23 pm |