Learn more about the women of Umutima: interviews by Indego Africa

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We want to share the interview done by Indego Africa a year ago as it tells the story of who we are and how far we have come. Indego Africa is a non-profit based in New York that works with many cooperatives here in Rwanda, empowering women through their leadership program and their support to Rwandan handmade crafts. We are proud to be their partners and to create the beautiful items for the babies of Indego Africa!

Click on the link to read more from the Indego Africa Blog “Up close and Indego”: https://indegoafrica.org/blog/the-lovely-mama-makers-of-umutima-cooperative

THE LOVELY MAMA MAKERS OF UMUTIMA COOPERATIVE
April 29, 2015

The lovely ladies of Umutima {which means “heart” in Kinyarwanda} have played a big role in our brand new collection for little ones by beautifully hand-sewing many of the pattern-happy items on our nursery line – everything from rompers to playmats to turbans & more!

These talented women – most of whom are also mamas – inspire us everyday with their beautiful artistry, determination, and dreams for the future. We chatted with Umutima’s advisor, Monica Tabet-Gugolz, and a few of the ladies themselves to find out more about this wonderful cooperative and to hear what they had to say about our nursery collection. Read on to find out!

Originally from Switzerland, Monica moved to Rwanda in 2013 looking to become involved with a grassroots women’s organization. She began volunteering with the Nyamirambo Women’s Center – an institution which helps women continue their education and gain better employment opportunities – but soon realized that the Center was too dependent on outside funding and lacked a means to sustain itself. To address this issue, Monica began teaching some of the women how to apply hand-stitches to African wax print fabric. Slowly but surely this dedicated bunch learned how to sew everything from home décor to children’s clothing, with an emphasis on quality and detail.

Today there are nearly 30 women involved in the project and they have organized themselves into a well-run cooperative known for its beautiful craftsmanship. Here’s what Monica had to say about working with Umutima on our nursery collection:

We have loved working with Umutima to create beautiful products for our nursery line – what are your thoughts on the collection?

The collection is so beautiful and we feel that Indego Africa reflects Umutima’s spirit perfectly. To see our products in the nursery collection validates all the hard work we have put into creating Umutima and gives us hope for our future. I still cannot believe this is happening!

As a mother yourself, what product from our nursery collection would you most like to give to your little one(s)?

For me the baby blanket/playmat is the item I love the most. It is Umutima’s very first product and I remember how much effort it took to get the final product right and to teach the women to stitch them.

What is the process like working with artisans to create a product by hand from start to finish?

At the moment I am in charge of design and new ideas. I then introduce the new idea to the women and we work on making the sample. Sometimes this involves looking for external artisans (for example for basketry) and this can take time. Once we are happy with the sample, the women working with me on it will teach the other ladies.

It takes a lot of patience and understanding, because the products that we make are “luxury” items in Rwanda. They are not products that are necessary to daily life here, so it is sometimes difficult for the artisans to understand why we cannot accept products that are not finished correctly. I put a lot of time and effort into quality control and making sure the details are finished correctly, but they now know that if our clients come back it is because of our attention to detail and so they accept the fact that I can be demanding.

There is one story that I will always remember. One of our tailors, Francine, when she started working for us found it really difficult to sew straight. The very first products we gave her were our aprons, which have a pocket in the front. No matter how much she tried, the pockets were never straight and each apron had to be done twice or even thrice. But Francine persevered and when she was finally able to make an apron that was perfect the first time, we both ended up with tears of happiness. Today Francine is one of the tailors that made the baby rompers for Indego Africa!

What inspires you about the women you work with?

The thing that inspires me the most about the women I work with is the fact that no matter what they have gone through in their lives they still have the strength and the passion to learn new things and work hard to earn a living. I respect the pride they put into their work and the fact that from the start they took ownership over Umutima.

We also interviewed three of Umutima’s talented mama makers to hear their thoughts on the nursery collection and what it means to be a working mom.

FRANCINE – 8 CHILDREN

Which product from the nursery collection do you like the most?

My favorite product is Umutima’s romper, because when I was asked to be one of the tailors to make the rompers for Indego Africa it meant a lot to me. When I first joined Umutima I struggled a lot with the finishing details of the products I was asked to sew. I always had to redo them because there was always something not straight or uneven. But I really worked hard to improve myself and slowly I saw the improvement. To be making the rompers means that I am now considered one of the top tailors of Umutima and this makes me proud.

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday?

Joining Umutima has changed my life forever. I learn so much and I do it with other women, so I do not feel alone. I can now contribute to the finances of my family and this is a huge step for me.

What are your dreams for your children’s futures?

I want my children to be able to have an education and to be able to one day earn a living.

What does it mean to be a “working mom”?

It is important because I can contribute to my family’s needs. I can help pay school fees and medical bills.

HOUSSINA – 3 CHILDREN

Which product from your nursery collection do you like the most?

My favorite product is Umutima’s romper, because I worked with Monica to develop the first sample for this product and in our catalogue we call it the “Houssina jumpsuit”. To see the picture in Indego Africa’s catalogue made me happy.

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday?

I am passionate about being a tailor and each day I learn something new with Umutima. I like being part of a team and not working by myself. I know that I can count on my Umutima friends if I need help.

What are your dreams for your children’s futures?

I want to be able to provide my children with a good education so that they can have a better future.

What does it mean to be a “working mom”?

I feel proud being an Umutima member. I used to work part time, but now it is a big difference bringing home my monthly salary. With money gained at Umutima I can do a lot of things. I look after my children, I pay school fees, I can pay for rent. I feel independent and proud contributing without asking for help.

MAYIMUNA – 7 CHILDREN

Which product from your nursery collection do you like the most?

My favorite product is Umutima’s playmat/baby blanket. I was one of the first Umutima’s ladies and the baby blanket was our very first product. I remember how hard it was to make the stitched straight and regular. I am now considered one of the best hand-stitchers in our group and I can even make bedspreads. I never imagined that something I make with my hands would reach the other side of the world.

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday?

I have found great joy being a member of the Umutima. It is a place where I am happy and have found a social community which gives me great support. I earn an income and find peace in knowing that my children will not go hungry.

What are your dreams for your children’s futures?

My children are already grown, but I hope that they can always have enough to live and to always be healthy.

What does it mean to be a “working mom”?

I have a job that I like and I don’t have to wait for my husband to do everything for me. Working gives me independence and pride.

What an amazing group of ladies! We are proud to be their partners and are thankful to Monica and the rest of the artisans of Umutima for welcoming us into their world! Shop the nursery products – hand-stitched and made with love – by the mama makers of Umutima!

One Response

  1. Keep up the helpful work and generating the group! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMYQj2rkGT8

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