Photo by Ashley Turner of Hazel & Pine

Rwanda is a country with a history peppered with turmoil. The most recent tumultuous, tragic event took place in 1994, the Rwandan Genocide. The genocide resulted in the deaths of over one million people.  Upon my first trip to the country, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Did people talk about it? Would there still be tension? Could I ask questions? Because this tragedy remains fresh on the pages of history (anyone over the age of 21 was alive during the time), I met many people during my month in Rwanda who had a story about their heartbreaking experience. To my surprise, most were open in sharing, and reflected on their loved ones and focused on a continued peace for the future.

Listening for hours to the broken voices of people picking up the pieces of their shattered lives, my heart wept. After lending an ear to stories that needed to be heard, my heart began to feel the blow of their burdens. In particular the story of Pascasie, the leader of one of our weaving cooperatives, hit my heart so hard it practically knocked the wind out of me. Outside the city of Butare, Pascasie lives in a small, mud brick home with a few of her remaining family members. I met with her for the first time on a typical Rwandan evening: rainy and without electricity. We were working by candlelight, discussing design possibilities when the dusty portraits on the wall caught my eye. When I asked about the portraits, Pascasie shared her story with a heavy but inspiring heart.

In April of 1994, Pascasie lost the majority of her family members including her husband, her siblings and their significant others, and a few of her children. One of the most gruesome actualities of the genocide was that the acts occurred within local communities. As in, perpetrators killed their own neighbors, and even forced family members to kill one another. So many of Pascasie’s family members were killed by people she actually knew. While it was very common for most families to be affected by the genocide, Pascasie’s loss was unparalleled. She reminisced on the spirit of her loved ones with honor, but it was the deep roots of her pain were clear.

Pascasie’s next steps were almost unfathomable to me, but are such a perfect indication of the compassion that lies within her. Having learned to weave as a child, Pascasie brought women of both sides of the war to weave together as a cooperative. Not only did this help to build an income for the group, but also it slowly started to mend the broken pieces of the community. Although she had been hit harder than anyone, Pascasie was seen as a leader in the movement of peace and forgiveness. As the cooperative began to grow and Pascasie’s work was recognized, she was asked to teach weaving classes to jail inmates. Filled with acceptance and compassion, Pascasie willingly accepted the offer. It was during this time that she met with perpetrators of the genocide to share her gift and knowledge.

When Pascasie began to wrap up her story, the tears glazed over my eyes as I gazed upon the photos of her deceased loved ones. I was stunned by her ability to forgive so quickly, especially during a time that was so dark. Although I’ve been back home for months, I’m reminded by Pascasie’s story nearly every day. As the founder of a start-up, it is so easy to get caught up in the stress of launching a business.As soon as that candlelit night flickers into my mind, I am quickly reminded about why I am even doing this in the first place. These women deserve an opportunity to showcase their work. That is why as a company, we are committed to bettering the lives of our artisan partners, like Pascasie, through sustainable employment, fair wages and training programs.

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