100 years of International Women’s day-Joy’s Story

We are Continuing with our count down to 100 years of International Women’s day- Yesterday we met Jacqueline in SW Uganda and today  we are in Rwanda to meet JOY

On 2 October 2009 I received an email from my buddy @TMSRuge inviting me to an exclusive online conversation with activist Will Shalit

I  had to stay up rather late for this conversation but at the end I felt it was worth it.

During that conversation I learned about Willa’s efforts to help the women of Rwanda and how she had managed to forge links with Macy’s Department store who had started carrying the women’s products.

I also learned that Oprah Winfrey had endorsed a range of bracelets and these were now marketed as the O bracelets. You can see them in the background of this picture. In addition that their baskets and jewellery was also for sale on Oprah’s online shop!

The O beaded Bracelet


Two months later in a meeting with the Rwanda Commercial Attaché it transpired that the women were keen to replicate that success. In fact a visit to their offices is a must the Commercial Attaché and it has been added to your schedule of folk to see whilst in Kigali Rwanda. Having heard about their work I too was keen to meet them and on 23/12/09 I found myself in front of Joy one of the co-founding sisters

Like many other Rwandese displaced by the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis Joy grew up in Uganda as a refugee. She had one wish whilst growing up, to help those less fortunate than she was! Today Joy works with over 3000 women who weave knit and saw. She converted her late parents home into a workshop where she personally teaches impoverished women weaving and design skills.


Joy is very easy to like and we hit it off immediately. Like most of her country’s folk she would like to put the genocide behind her and promote all that is good about Rwanda/Africa. In her own words, there is more to us than the genocide if only people out there would realise it! We would like people to buy our products because they like them or find them useful and not because they feel sorry for us or because of the genocide!

I really could not argue with that and I hope folk out there agree with her too!

Gahaya Links baskets


We speak quickly as she has given the staff the whole afternoon off to go and finish their Christmas shopping and are keen to close so she and the other senior team members can go home and start their Christmas holidays. I am really impressed with this as not many bosses would do this! She is surprised to learn that an online connection had enabled me to learn so much about their work!

She told me about her plans and we had a brief brainstorm before I left and agreed to continue the conversation in the New Year. On My return to the UK I got in touch and we agreed to become partners.

I have a great admiration for women like Joy. My favourite quote is IF YOU THINK YOU ARE TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE TRY SLEEPING WITH A MOSQUITO; and Joy is one of those women who are convinced that the can make a difference in others lives on however small a scale

I left Rwanda on Christmas Eve and rejoined my family in Uganda. I was in a contemplative mood about the people I had seen and places I had been. I had seen a people full of hope about the future. This country had been to hell and back and was slowly but surely rising from the dust!

Raffia Magazine Rack-from Gahaya Links

The country is fighting back against things like corruption, the law in enforced as it should be and people are treasured! I also learned something interesting, folk in Rwanda that have money send their children to schools in Uganda and also go to Uganda for fun most weekends!!





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