The female artisans of Rwanda’s Gahaya Links arguably produce some of the most recognizable items at the International Folk Art Market. Finely woven baskets, adorned with geometric patterning and vibrant, naturally dyed colors, commingle with whimsical, tall-necked woven vessels with tapering tops that seem to sway gently from left and right. Immediately appealing for their almost anthropomorphic appearance, these tall, curved vessels have long been popular offerings from Gahaya Links.
According to a statement on behalf of organization cofounder, Janet Nkubana, “Our folk art expresses the appreciation and preservation of traditional Rwandan art passed on from one generation to the other. It’s important because women of Rwanda are using basketry as a means to earn a living for their families.” Janet and her sister Joy Ndungstse (the other founder of Gahaya Links) grew up in an Ugandan refugee camp, estranged for years from their native Rwanda. When they did return home, the impact of a years-long, brutal genocide had devastated relationships between the sisters’ families and neighbors. The sisters became determined to do what they could to help improve the lives of those affected by war.
This is how the story of Gahaya Links begins, with the sisters joining together Hutu and Tutsi women into a basket-weaving arts collective. “I realized that this was an opportunity not just for women to earn money, it was an opportunity to build peace,” says Nkubana. Gahaya Links has had a profound impact on the quality of life for its members, who, thanks to the organization, are able to provide a stable source of income not just for themselves, but for their families as well.