Joy Ndungutse is a bold woman with incredible taste and a heart that leads her efforts to change thousands of lives of Rwandan women who lost almost everything during the Genocide. Joy and her sister Janet are the founders of Gahaya Links, which is responsible for the legendary “Rwandan Peace Baskets” that were launched by Federated Department Stores (flagship store is Macy’s) in the winter of 2007. These straw baskets are woven in the traditional way of basketmaking that Joy and Janet had learned from their mother. The women basketmakers shared in the profits of each sale. Lives were changed.
TNP’s founder knew about these baskets, their beauty and their incredible impact: Gahaya had trained nearly four thousand Rwandan women and they and their families saw their lives get better almost instantly. Niepold had always wanted to take TNP’s work to Rwandan grandmothers and so, in 2008, she and her daughter, Mil, visited Rwanda for the first time. They were on a mission: They wanted Gahaya to train our TNP grandmothers.
A series of “coincidences” led them to Gahaya, and when asked if they would train our grandmothers, Joy beamed: “Of course.”
Fifteen grandmothers of AIDS orphans who lived as subsistence farmers high in the Jabana Hills outside of the capital of Kgali, were found, and in 2009 they were trained in paper bead making at Gahaya. They lived for two weeks on the grounds of the crafts center, and every day – without reading skills and infinite patience by Joy and her staff – they learned to roll colorful paper into colorful beads that Joy then fashioned into stunning jewelry for clients. Over the years, Gahaya has made products for Federated stores, Starbucks, Kate Spade, Anthropologie, the list goes on.
For the grandmothers, their training meant that every week for many months, they were paid for the beads they made, and their children began to eat better and have sufficient clothing for school. Today they still make the beads and are learning to make other crafts from palm.
“Now my children eat meat sometimes,” said Anastasia, one of the TNP grandmothers. “Now they go to school.”
The grandmothers and their grandchildren gathered on the hillside in Jabana several months after they completed their training. Each grandmother had brought her certificate from Gahaya that told her she had completed her training. These women are all widows, many from the Genocide, and most had never finished more than the first or second grade. That summer afternoon, however, they dressed up in bright dresses and smiled when they showed TNP their very own certificate.
“God has blessed us,” they said. “Thank you for remembering.”