Emelienne Nyiramana, now 37, used to fetch water for a living, walking 17 kilometers from her home in Kigali and earning 25 cents on each trip to provide for her family of six. She didnt have a bank account, and school fees and groceries for her four children were never certainties. Now, Emelienne earns more than $5 a day running a profitable export business, enough not only to feed her family and pay for her childrens school fees, but to deposit the remainder in a savings account.
The turning point was in 2007. Me and my fellow women who shared the same problem of poverty decided to start a cooperative with the help of an organization who found us, Indego Africa, Emelienne said. Theirs was the first group of artisan women to partner with the non-profit, whose long-term approach towards lifting African women out of poverty was through a combination of fair trade partnerships (members of the all-women for-profit co-operatives they partner with get a fair wage that includes 50% in advance of production), international exports, and training programs.
Emeliennes sewing co-operative, Cocoki (Cooperative de Couture de Kicukiro), now includes 40 women who use foot-powered sewing machines and coal-powered irons to craft vibrantly-colored bags, fabric-wrapped bracelets, and wrap-skirts using traditional wax prints. On their fifth year, theyve fulfilled orders for large U.S. fashion brands including Nicole Miller and Anthropologie, and are currently finishing production on a large scale order for J.Crew for their Spring/Summer 2012 collection. Profits are used to have fund programs in English literacy, and training in computers, management and accounting.
All members of Cocoki have a dream. Their dream is to become rich from their hands, Emelienne said.