More than 20 years after the Rwandan genocide, people like Jacqueline Musabyimana are still reeling in the aftermath.

Her father was a victim of the conflict, and young Jacqueline was sent to live with her mother’s family in Kayonza. Though she managed to finish her primary education, she couldn’t afford the fees for secondary school and was left to handle the majority of the chores in the family’s home.

“After genocide in 1994, we lost many members in the family, and life was difficult,” she explained

Things improved slightly when she started a family. But it was still hard to make ends meet on just her husband’s single income.

“I was depending on income from my husband, but he didn’t have enough. I couldn’t even send my children to school or pay rent,” she said. “When my children and husband got sick, it was difficult to go to the hospital.” With no education, and no practical skills beyond the home, Jacqueline herself could only help her family in the same ways that she always had: housework and child care. And while those roles were certainly importantly, they didn’t pay the bills.

With help from their local pastor, Jacqueline and other women from her church learned how to make products from banana leaf weaving. They honed their craft and began to build a community with each other through their art, creating beautiful jewelry, clothing, and fashion accessories from readily available banana leaves.

“We share artistry, we share life,” Jacqueline said.

Then in 2011, a U.S.-based startup called Songa Design International came to their village and saw the beautiful work that the women were doing.

Songa Design is a for-profit, socially-conscious fashion brand that aims to empower women with its sustainable, stylish accessories made by artisans in economically disadvantaged countries. Each handcrafted piece — from bracelets and earrings to handbags and belts and beyond — is as unique as the women who make them, using readily available local materials and customized designs that draw from their own cultural traditions.

“Our mission is straight forward,” it says on their website. “Songa exists to create jobs for skilled women in under-resourced countries so they can earn their way to economic independence.”

And so far, Songa’s mission has been a tremendous success. For Jacqueline, it changed her life.


Her woven handbags and baskets come from her own design, and each one takes a full week to make. Jacqueline can’t help but glow with pride when she speaks about their quality and the impact it’s had on the quality of her life.

“With the income I earned from Songa, I was able to buy a plot, and then I was able to build a house,” Jacqueline said.

“So now I don’t have to pay rent. I am able to support my husband and was able to buy a cow and a goat.” She’s also finally able to afford school fees and health insurance for her four children — and her marriage couldn’t happier.

After decades of hardship, Jacqueline is now the president of Twiyubake Banana Leaf Cooperative — a name that means “to rebuild ourselves” in the Kinyarwanda language.

Twiyubake is just one of Songa’s many partner cooperatives. Although they are an independent businesses regulated by the Rwanda Cooperative Association, Twiyubake mainly relies on Songa’s distribution for their income.


But Jacqueline’s dream is to one day open up her own store, complete with a showroom and her own paid employees.

Get this: She actually wants to pay taxes to her country so she can help other people have a life like the one she’s finally achieved. She’s also hired a tutor to help her learn English, so that she can lead her future company into the international marketplace all by herself.

In the meantime, there are plenty of other beautiful accessories available on the Songa website, all made by incredible women like Jacqueline Musabyimana.

But if you do end up buying one of Jacqueline’s products, be sure to let her know; she loves getting feedback on her work and likes to see it bring a smile to the people who have helped change her life for the better.

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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