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Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry.

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Rwandan Widows Earn Livelihood with American Knitting Machines

$99,000 USAID grant provides livelihood for women in Rwanda.

by The Fiber and Craft Entrepreneurial Development Center (July 4, 2005)

(Note: Live 8 concerts were held around the world this past weekend to highlight the African continent's incredible suffering. CLN is delighted -- and proud -- that one industry-related company is actually doing something about the problem.)

When "Rwanda" is mentioned in the U.S., images of genocide and deep sadness come to mind. But when "knitting" is mentioned in Rwanda, the only images are those of smiles, laughter, and women working together.

"This is the Rwanda I know – seeing the biggest smile imaginable from a new knitter after finishing her first scarf, knowing she will be now able to feed her children using her newly acquired skills," says Cari Clement, founder of FACED, the Fiber and Craft Entrepreneurial Development Center.

After a year of grant writing, Clement’s dream of helping women through knitting has finally borne fruit. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Rwandans and Americans in Partnership, a Rwanda-based non-governmental agency, are pleased to announce the signing of a $99,000 grant to benefit Rwanda Knits, a program developed by Clement in 2003. With this grant, 13 new, and ultimately self-sustaining, knitting cooperatives will be established throughout Rwanda – each group receiving 40 knitting machines, accessories, yarn and training. Some of the cooperatives will also receive training in and equipment for finishing knitted goods for export. This training will include embellishing (embroidery, crochet, etc.), labeling, inspecting, packing, and preparation of export documents.

From the initial donation in 2003 of 90 hand-operated, U.S.-made knitting machines and hands-on training for both refugees in Rwanda and Rwandan women widowed by the 1994 genocide and AIDS, a culture of knitting has been slowly developing in this small but extremely poor country in sub-Saharan Africa.

What started out as a one-time donation to USA for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), to benefit refugee women living in Rwanda, changed after donor Cari Clement saw and experienced the passion with which the new knitters took to the machines and to knitting in general. Not only were the women fast learners, but they were extremely persevering, determined to learn everything they could. Within a few short months they were producing sweaters, baby items, and blankets and selling them in the local markets.

The obvious potential for so many women in Rwanda to earn a living above the less-than-a-dollar-per day levels was too great for Clement not to continue with the project. She felt there must be a way to get more machines sent there, so, after much grant-researching and the support of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy’s office, Clement focused on getting a grant from USAID to benefit rural women in Rwanda.

Clement and her U.S.-based non-profit entity, the Fiber and Craft Entrepreneurial Development Center (part of the Centers for Social Responsibility, a 501c3 organization) will provide the financial underpinnings of initial support. Other affiliated companies and organizations, including Caron International, EDImports, and the Business Council for Peace, will contribute to the program with yarn donations, business expertise, market expansion, export projects, business plan development, and more to help in generating the additional $60,000 in cash and in-kind matching funds required by the USAID grant.

In January, 2002, Clement sold her company, Bond America, to Caron International, where she now serves as Director of Fashion and Design. "I would like to thank everyone at Caron International and National Spinning for their support in this project. They have not only donated machines and yarn, but have allowed me to continue with this project in my work at Caron.

"As an entrepreneur, designer, store owner and magazine publisher in the creative industries, I have always known that making beautiful things lifts the spirit and offers hope," notes Clement. "In Rwanda, I really saw it happen."

(Note: For more info, call Cari Clement at 802-229-9991, email cari@fiberandcraft.org, or visit www.fiberandcraft.org. To read previous Business-Wise columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment on this or any industry issue, email CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)

(Note: Another company, Signature Plus, is doing a similar project, organizing village women in Zimbabwe to create handmade paper products. The company will be exhibiting at the CHA summer show for the first time -- booth 6505. The website is www.naturallypaper.com.)

xxx

 

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