Burundi and Tanzania: weaving stories of hope in refugee camps
Two inspiring stories from two African women who are making the difference. Living in a refugee camp did not represent a limit to their energy and will to improve their conditions.
Nyamvura Koronaria is a Burundian refugee artisan in the Mtendeli camp in Northwestern Tanzania. She lives in two tents together with her husband, her nine children and six other children she is providing for – 17 people total. They fled to Tanzania in the middle of the night after armed militias had entered her village and people had started disappearing. Her main challenge in the camp is inadequate shelter, with a lack of space, leaking roofs and only straw mats to sleep on. As a refugee, she is not allowed to leave the camp without a permit, which can be difficult to get. Ever since monthly food rations were cut, they don’t get enough food to provide for everyone under her care.
Following family tradition, Nyamvura learned to weave from her mother at a young age. She wanted to pursue weaving in Burundi to support her family but was forced to give up on it because of a lack of customers. She returned to a subsistence farming livelihood until she was again forced to flee to the camps in Tanzania.
Today, Nyamvura is proud to again be pursuing her weaving passion as part of WomenCraft’s refugee artisan group in the camp. She loves the new standardized designs and is excited to have learned to use molds and tape measures for her weaving. She jokes that:
"At home, everyone makes different shapes and designs. Not even the same person can make the same product twice".
Through her weaving income, Nyamvura provides the only reliable income for her family in the camp. This enables her to improve her inadequate housing situation and to complement insufficient food rations with food she buys in the host community market. Given the harsh life in the camp, the group also provides her and her colleagues an important safety net, psychosocial support and a sense of self-determination, all of which are hard to find in a refugee camp context.
"I am grateful to come to the weaving center every day. I am again able to follow my passion and support my family with it. The center is where I am happy, sitting with my friends, chatting and helping each other if one of us is having a difficult time".
Esperance Balingayao is a Burundian refugee artisan living with her husband, her six children and two orphans in the Mtendeli refugee camp in Northwestern Tanzania. When violence reached her community in Burundi, they fled their home at night, braving the two-day trek to the Tanzanian border on foot, navigating small paths through forests, rivers and mountains. She clearly remembered the way as this was the third time they had to flee their home to Tanzania. Today, she feels safe in the camp but life is hard without opportunities for income or to grow crops and with insufficient food rations and poor access to clean water.
Esperance’s life changed when she decided to join the refugee artisan group of WomenCraft in the camp. Initially, it was a big challenge for her to become used to the new designs, weaving all products in a standardized way using molds and having to follow strict timelines. Accepting the challenge, Esperance now masters all product shapes and designs and has become the lead artisan of her group, supervising product quality and production schedules and providing individual support to her artisan colleagues:
"I am proud about my weaving and I am so happy to be leading our group to help artisans grow and produce high quality products. Only following our strict standards and timelines are we able to become competitive and sell our products to customers around the world".
Given the limited opportunities in the camp, Esperance has become the sole breadwinner of her family. Through her weaving income, she is gradually improving her family’s situation in the camp. With her regained entrepreneurial spirit, she hopes to soon open a small family-run breakfast place to sell local doughnuts and tea within the camp as a secondary source of income.
Story contributor: WomenCraft
For International Women's Day 2108 celebration