By Felix NIZEYIMANA, Azizi Life Staff Writer
Each year Azizi Life hosts an Artisan Council, where we gather representatives from all of our partnering artisan groups, including weavers, woodcarvers, seamstresses, beekeepers, and candle makers. The yearly meeting is held at the Azizi Life head office, but this year’s attendance warranted an event tent and we gathered in the office garden to accommodate an increase in artisan partners . The idea behind our Artisan Council is to reflect on victories and challenges from the last year and to hear and discuss the ideas and recommendations from the artisans on how Azizi Life can strengthen our collaboration with them in the coming year.
At the meeting held in August of this year, 56 delegates attended this council from 38 different groups along with 22 Azizi Life staff members – a total of 78 participants. Praise God! During the meeting there was a time for prayer and to share the mission, vision, and core values of Azizi Life. We gathered artisan feedback, provided an overview of the production and purchasing processes, and discussed the creation of a new communication system for artisans. Updates for Azizi Life social enterprises (Azizi Life Experiences, Beeutiful Creations, Azizi Life Boutique, and Azizi Life Studio) were shared, as well as updates on our local non-profit Ubuzima Bwiza Iwacu (Azizi Life Impact) projects. We concluded our time with open discussion and shared a meal together.
During prayer time Bibianne, Azizi Life Impact (UBI) Program Assistant, shared a word of God from Mark 11:20-28. Her message focused on belief and forgiveness.
The groups then each presented an achievement from the last year. The groups shared about how they had grown, and many chose to thank Azizi Life for helping them to improve their standard of living and contributing to change in their lives.
Here are a few accomplishments Azizi Life artisan partners shared:
“We are thankful to God who gave us Azizi Life which was with us and accompanied us from the early days of our group until now [over the last 11 years]. We are planning to buy smartphones.”Inganzo Cooperative delegates
“With encouragement from Azizi Life, we have joined the bank and now we have bank accounts, and we have installed electricity in our houses.”Yvonne Uwiringirimana of Abahuje Cooperative in Byimana
“Azizi Life helped me to admit my children to best school in the area, and I am able to pay their school fees. Work from Azizi Life will help us to pay for our children even up to university.”Alex from KOIIK Cooperative
“We have got improved cooking stoves and solar lamps.”AVEKI Cooperative delegates
“We thank Azizi Life that they gave us work and empowered us. Now we have created a group to fight against malnutrition in our community.”ICYIZERE Shyogwe delegates
“Azizi Life helped us to overcome our fear. It provided us improved stoves and solar lamps. During the day we cultivate and in the evening we weave.”Ingobokarugo Cooperative delegates
“We were in loneliness, but now we have many friends. We have created a savings group. Now we no longer have poor among us.”TWIVANEMUBUKENE “We Come Out of Poverty” Cooperative delegates
“We thank Azizi Life that taught us to pray with our husbands. With our income, we have all bought telephones, and we welcome guests [for cultural Experience Days]. We are happy.”Ubuzima Bwiza i Munazi delegates
“I am old but am in good health because of Azizi Life. Tom, Christi and Jeannine have become a legacy to me. ”Pascasie from Agaseke k’amahoro Cooperative (pictured with Jeannine, Tom and Christi)
Artisan after artisan shared victories, including repairs to their homes, paying health insurance, paying school fees for their children, buying livestock, joining saving groups, and getting energy-efficient stoves, water filters and solar lamps through our Renewable Resources program. Some mentioned how Azizi Life had helped them to grow in faith through weekly Bible study. The artisans were also proud of their contribution to Rwanda, where they have properly registered and are paying taxes.
CEO Jeannine Umutoniwase welcomed all attendees in her opening remark and then shared the mission, vision, and core values of Azizi Life. She reminded everyone, “Azizi Life was created [in 2008] to improve the well being of artisans through their hard work. It was founded from the idea of finding a market for artisans who were not able to sell their crafts. Its mission is to link Rwandan artisans to the global market.” Since 2008, that little idea has grown to so much more, seeking to help rural Rwandans thrive in every area of their lives.
COO Sheila Uwimana started by thanking God who enabled Azizi Life to increase the number of artisan partners. She explained the how the process for each order works from the customer to artisans and then back to the customers. She thanked the artisans for all their hard work and shared that, with Christi’s help, Azizi Life continues to find new markets and customers. She explained how Azizi Life buys the crafts and then sells them in different places in Rwanda and abroad. She also shared about product development process and custom product orders.
Impact Director Venantie Musigirende then shared an overview of Ubuzima Bwiza Iwacu (Azizi Life Impact projects) and its mission to remove all barriers which could hinder rural communities from developing themselves economically, socially, and spiritually. She spoke about Azizi Life’s hope to support even more small business in the future and to help them grow. Current Impact Projects are weekly Bible Study, Adult Literacy Program, a savings group, Beekeeper Training at the Azizi Life Apiary, and distribution of fuel-efficient stoves, solar lamps and water filters with an interest-free payment system through the Renewable Resources Program.
International Liason Christi Whitekettle explained Azizi Life’s desire for a new communication system that enabled all artisans to bring issues to the attention of Azizi Life leadership without fear. The majority of artisans thought the easiest way to do this was to put a suggestion box at the office so that they could drop in their concerns and wishes annonymously.
Artisans, beekeepers, and candle makers expressed their appreciation of all that Azizi Life staff were doing. One concern many groups have is difficulties gathering good supplies of some materials like polishes and dyes, which could become expensive and scarce. The Azizi Life leadership team took time to address each of the artisans’ expressed concerns and committed to continuing to problem-solve and work together for the benefit of all.
Overall, it was a wonderful day and encouraging to hear how people’s lives have changed due to fair trade wages and orders provided through Azizi Life. The excitement was tangible for all the opportunities that lay ahead for Azizi Life, the artisans, and their communities.