By Jean Pierre Mbarubukeye
One night in 1994, twenty-three-year-old Sperathe Uwiragiye found herself in the house of man that she barely knew, forced into a marriage that she never consented to. Just a few hours earlier, she and a friend had been walking home when Sperathe’s friend introduced her to the man that would become her husband. Once at his house, her friend abandoned her and left her at the mercy of this man. At that time, there was no law to protect Sperathe from such a fate.
After the birth of her first born in 1995, it wasn’t long before conflicts surfaced. Violence erupted in their home. Life started to feel hopeless. Her husband was regularly drinking alcohol and refused to provide for the family, and the meager living Sperathe earned from subsistence farming was barely enough for them to manage. That is when she started learning to weave, but at that time, it was hardly the solution; she made just two hundred Rwandan francs – less than a dollar – from the first miniature basket that she made.
Attempts at reconciliation in their family failed and Sperathe was no closer to a better future for her and her children. In 2011, she left her home and went to live with her parents, joined a few days later by her four children. The following month, they began their new life, but they still struggled. They rented a two-bedroom house for around $6 a month. At this point, things began to take a turn for the better.
Sperathe had joined the Abarikumwe Cooperative (abarikumwe means ‘those who are together’ in Kinyarwanda) and started to weave baskets again. This time, however, she was able to sell her baskets for a fair price in a market that Azizi Life connected her with. Being in a cooperative helped her.
“I remember when I got my first five thousand franc note when my cooperative joined Azizi Life,” she said. “Now I have a big market to sell my craft. I can pay the school fees for my children, health insurance, and can buy clothes for the family.” Though shy, she is always smiling. “I also built my own four-bedroom house,” she added.
“I’m proud of having my own house and proud of joining Abarikumwe Cooperative. The cooperative and the people I know at Azizi Life are my new family. It’s not just about earning money; it is a place to meet good people talking about how to overcome poverty and about the goodness of God during our Wednesday Bible studies. My life has changed completely; it’s like I have escaped a personal prison.”
Two of her children are now in high school, as she is busy weaving not just baskets, but earrings and decorative ornaments also. She weaves for her children; for their future and for hers. From betrayal to hope: this is Sperathe’s story.
Honor Sperathe’s story and support the Abarikumwe Cooperative in their quest to provide for their families and grow professionally by sharing this blog post with friends and shopping hand woven bracelets, large woven disc earrings, woven loop earrings, and hand woven napkin rings.
Header picture from Instagram @whereshewentnext.