Meet Ihangane Ruli Artisan: Mukeshimana Odette

Odette is one amazing lady. Not only is she a working mother of four (including a teenage girl- eek!) she recently wowed the entire community with her amazing voice and even better dance skills! Odette joined the cooperative four years ago because she wanted to work to earn money to bring her family out of poverty. She is now about to afford medical insurance, nutritious food and clothing for her whole family. She hopes to one day buy a plot of land to cultivate as well as pig. Hopefully we can get a video of her singing and dancing to share soon!

Artisans Speak! Interview with Igihe, National Rwandan Newspaper In Rwanda


Gakenke: The women from Ruli have decided to participate in business even though, they met some problems.

Written on 7-08-2012 – Time 09:55′ by Abdou Nyampeta

 (Original Post in Kinyarwanda)

’’Now, we decided to stand up to specify our inventions whether in Rwanda or abroad, in selling for gaining funds and continuing to own respect.’’

Said by Mukankuranga Beata, a member of handcraft cooperative called (COVARU) localized in Ruli sector. She lives in Busoro cell, Ruli sector, Gakenke district, Northern Province, and she spoke in an interview with IGIHE  on Monday, 06th August 2012 at Gikondo where the 15th  international exhibition take a place.

This cooperative is composed by ladies who are determined to fight against the poverty by making handcraft products fabricated in banana leaves and sisals sponsored by the National women council.   

Mukankuranga Betty said it is the first time our cooperative gets here in the international exhibition. She said ’’ We came here to publish our inventions for being known and selling to gain money. Secondly we came to learn how others work in order to get something from them or they get something from us”. Some problems emerged for them are: Delay to go back to their hotels caused by the lack of transportation and a bit matter of stopping for a short while of electricity power in the exposition area.

Press Release~ Join TIP at the International AIDS Conference!



The Ihangane Project Selected as Global Village Participant on Sustainable Health Innovations


Our Marketplace Booth is an Official Global Village Activity for the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012)


July 15, 2012, Santa Cruz, California—The Ihangane Project has been selected to participate in the Global Village at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012), which will take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. from July 22 – 27, 2012.


The Global Village, open to conference delegates and the general public, aims to intensify the involvement of key stakeholders in the conference and in the global response to AIDS. The Ihangane Project’s selected activity will be a marketplace booth to support business development for a large women’s artisan cooperative in rural Rwanda. In Sub Saharan Africa, lack of access to food due to extreme poverty is a risk factor for HIV. The Ihangane Project supports economic development for those at highest risk of HIV.  Additionally, it was one of only 280 Global Village activities accepted for inclusion in the AIDS 2012 programme out of over 1,000 submissions. Examples of other activities at the Global Village include sessions, forums, oral presentations, awards, networking zones, NGO exhibition booths, marketplace booths, art exhibits, film screenings and performing arts.

The Ihangane Project empowers Rwandan communities to develop integrated approaches to the complex challenges of HIV by supporting community-driven projects that increase access to health care, improve health care quality, and foster long term success through economic development. We envision a world in which preventative health care is the norm, access to health care is considered a basic human right, and short term health gains are not cut short by socioeconomic marginalization.

“We are extremely proud that this activity was chosen to be a part of the AIDS 2012 programme,” said Executive Director, Wendy Leonard. “This conference comes at what has the potential to be an historic moment in the AIDS epidemic. The world’s attention will be on Washington in July to see how all of us – clinicians, scientists, policymakers, and advocates – are able to come together to chart a path forward in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a way that is integrated with overall improvements in health care delivery systems around the world.”


All are encouraged to attend the Global Village Programme at AIDS 2012. Returning to the U.S. after a 22-year absence, the Conference is expected to be a landmark event. The return to the U.S. is due in large part to years of advocacy to end the nation’s entry restrictions on people living with HIV (PLHIV). This return represents a huge success for human rights and will have a positive impact on the response to HIV and AIDS both at a national and international level.

The theme of AIDS 2012, Turning the Tide Together, has been selected to emphasize how a global and decisive commitment is crucial to change the course of the epidemic now that science is presenting promising results in HIV treatment and biomedical prevention.


More information on the selection process for the International AIDS Conference Global Village Programme is available here.


About AIDS 2012


AIDS 2012 is expected to convene more than 20,000 delegates from more than 200 countries, including more than 2,000 journalists. As the largest gathering of professionals working in the field of HIV, including people living with HIV and other leaders in the HIV response, the biennial International AIDS Conference plays a fundamental role in shaping the global response to HIV and in keeping HIV and AIDS on the international political agenda.


Conference Organization


AIDS 2012 is convened by the International AIDS Society and the conference’s international partners: the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+); the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO); the International Community of Women with HIV/AIDS (ICW) and the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS): the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC); Sidaction. 


The U.S.-based Black AIDS Institute; the District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH); the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA); the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) at the White House; and the U.S. Positive Women’s Network (USPWN) are serving as local partners.  


AIDS 2012: Join the conversation

Get the latest conference updates and share your thoughts and ideas through the Conference Facebook and Twitter.   We are tweeting – @aids2012 – and hope many of you will tweet along with us, using #AIDS2012 to keep the conversation going. Become a fan of AIDS 2012 on Facebook and stay in touch with the latest conference updates and developments. Please visit to become a fan.


About the IAS 

The International AIDS Society (IAS) is the world’s leading independent association of HIV professionals, with over 16,000 members from more than 196 countries working at all levels of the global response to AIDS. Our members include researchers from all disciplines, clinicians, public health and community practitioners on the frontlines of the epidemic, as well as policy and programme planners. The IAS is the custodian of the biennial International AIDS Conference and lead organizer of the IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, which will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 30 June– 3 July 2013. | 


Wendy Leonard, MD, AAHIVS


AIDS 2012 Media Team

Sian Bowen (Geneva, Switzerland), AIDS 2012 Senior Communications Manager                           

Email: / Tel:  +41 22 710 0864                                                     


Adina Ellis (Washington, D.C.), AIDS 2012 U.S. Communications and Public Affairs Manager / Tel: +1 (202) 714-6793


Shawn Jain (Washington, D.C.), AIDS 2012 U.S. Communications & Media Relations Coordinator

Email: / Tel: +1 (202) 470-3127

Field Trips & Empowerment

This summer, Stephanie Blount provided us with a beautiful report that outlines recommendations for how to support these cooperatives in their path to business independence and sustainability.  Here are some excerpts from this report…..

“[A cooperative is] an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

Official definition of ‘cooperative’ according to Rwanda MINICOM


“Independence” can be defined in a variety of ways. The implicit assumption is that independence in this context should be equated with some measure of monetary success. However, The Ihangane Project recognizes the utility of a multi-dimensional reading of the word. Indeed, even the Oxford Dictionary definition: “Freedom from control, influence, support, aid, or the like,” suggests that the concept itself is of utmost complexity, and its interpretation very personal.



The discussion of “goals” occurred rather early on during my time in Rwanda and perhaps as a result, the level of communication was not as strong as I would have liked. Individual women seemed to have different interpretations of “goals” – some were expressly more business related, and others more personal (see section on Household Assessments). But some coherent themes emerged which I classify into 3 distinct sections below. I also include a fourth section which I believe to be just as important but which was not mentioned by the women. I believe that the women of both Ihangane Women’s Association and Covaru Cooperative would equate achieving these 4 Goals with achieving “independence” and “success”.


I will have reached my Goals if I can…

1. … make an income large enough to sustain my family.

2. … become a skilled artisan who makes craft work of the highest quality in Rwanda.

3. … acquire business skills and a business-minded approach.

4. … become self-assured and confident in my abilities and personal value.                


SWOT Analysis:


To achieve the goals outlined above, a robust business plan must be developed. A SWOT analysis will provide the groundwork upon which to build this plan. The outcomes of this analysis will dictate the “next steps” taken on the road to independence. Below I outline the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of Ihangane Women’s Association and Covaru Cooperative.  There will be areas of significant overlap in the SWOT analyses of both. However, the groups do possess some fundamentally different characteristics that are a function of their history and group make-up. For this reason, I will list shared strengths and weaknesses together and provide a separate list of attributes that are applicable to each group respectively. It is also important to note that at times, even shared characteristics may differ in subtle ways. I will elaborate upon such nuances in the recommendations section. I do not distinguish between opportunities and threats for each group respectively as the external characteristics that may benefit or harm both cooperatives are the same.


Shared Strengths: The value that already exists within the business

·         Community ties and connections
·         Natural Resources and Access to low cost Materials
·         Capacity for Increased Production

Ihangane Women’s Association Strengths

·         Commitment to Business Success
·         Skills Knowledge- some members have extensive experience making traditional crafts

Covaru Cooperative Strengths

·         Association History
       Spirit of Independence
       Group Cohesion

Shared Weaknesses: Characteristics internal to the business that require improvement

·         Internal Performance measurement- measuring their performance or determining “success"

      Innovation and Skills Strengthening

·        Power dynamics - Some cooperative members hesitate to express opinions/ideas to the leadership and broader group. This could be a symptom of a number of issues including low self-confidence, a lack of understanding of the expectations of membership in a cooperative etc.

      Location- Trends in handicraft design are set in the nation’s capital and Ruli is a 2+ hour drive from Kigali.

Fostering Empowerment and Self-Efficacy:


Another item worthy of note is that of the 12 home visits conducted, 9 were at the homes of Covaru members. At first I assumed there was simply more enthusiasm within the Covaru group about my involvement, but in retrospect I believe the Covaru women were more aggressive about wanting me to visit than the Ihangane women. I don’t think the fact that Ihangane is comprised of a number of HIV+ women is incidental to this outcome. Self-confidence and personal value is undoubtedly lower among the women of Ihangane Women’s Association. This was apparent not just by the fact that fewer Ihangane women approached me to visit their homes, but also in the content of conversation I held with women of both groups. Covaru women would ask me pointed questions about myself and about their business that Ihangane women never did. I have already suggested the importance of empowerment training for both groups, but the home visits solidified that this is especially necessary for Ihangane.


Measuring Success:

The principle differences between the women of Ihangane and Covaru turn out not to be explicitly monetary in nature; indeed the main difference on average is whether or not the woman has children. This may be a function of age as Covaru women are younger on average. (Of course, the fact that Ihangane women are more likely to have children does have some fiscal import because it means that they require more financial support to survive. But from the standpoint of the entire household, both groups experience equivalent financial instability.) Because their financial situations are comparable, is impossible to identify ‘indicators of financial success’ by comparing Covaru women’s experiences and Ihangane women’s experiences. However, by analyzing the group of interviews as a whole, I have singled out the following as potential specific indicators of financial success that would be useful to measure whether membership in either cooperative is yielding positive results in the women’s lives over time:

i. Existence of savings

ii. Number of children who have completed primary school

iii. Location of home – in or out of agglomeration

iv. Hours of free time per day

v. Number of animals/square meters of land purchased since joining

Kigali Field Trips:

I organized individual trips to Kigali for both cooperatives with the intention of exposing the women to the products manufactured by their stiffest competition. The idea was to position the groups in such a way that they were primed for self-reflection. Without leading them to the answers, I wanted them to conduct a critical comparison between their products and what they observed in the stores frequented by the consumers they would like to target. In all of our conversations prior to the Kigali visit, each woman opined that the main inhibitor to the businesses’ success was insufficient demand/lack of a market place. In the post-Kigali recap however, the women agreed that their primary inhibitor was comparatively low quality and a lack of innovation.

Acquiring an understanding of how to turn the concept of ‘innovative design’ into tangible products is critical for cooperative success in this field. Every store proprietor and sales person we spoke with during our tour of handicrafts in Kigali was explicit about the need for today’s artisans to take a novel approach to traditional handicrafts.



International Collaboration

Looking for a handmade gift that supports women in Rwanda and social enterprise in India? You have come to the right place! We are proud to share our newest collaboration with in New Delhi, India. They will be hocking our beautiful basket wares from India, making these crafts available throughout the world.  For only $5 USD, these items can be shipped to the United States. This will dramatically improve our ability to purchase additional baskets from the women, because it lowers our cost for shipping large quantities to the US.

Check out the latest styles!


Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Today was a very sad day. Today, one of our participants in the Nutrition for HIV-Exposed Infants, Daphrose, passed away at the age of 39. To meet Daphrose, you would never know of the traumas she faced in her life. She was always smiling and laughing. The joy with which she played with her daughter was so very touching. She jumped at the opportunity to learn how to make baskets and banana leaf cards, although her true dream was to return to secondary school.     IMG_2891.jpg

What is not clear from meeting Daphrose are the losses that she carried with her. The first hint is within her home. She lived with her two brothers, and her sister next door, in a relatively new ‘umudugudu’. The home is large and well-made, although strangely lacking in furniture. There are wires that travel up the wall to an imaginary light bulb, but no electricity. The story is that her mother died when Daphrose was young. Her father lived in this home with his children, until a few years ago, when he packed all of the furniture (as well as the family’s lone solar panel) and moved to another community to begin a new family. Through this experience, the brothers and sisters became even closer and supported one another through the challenges that they faced. 

When Daphrose became pregnant for the first time, she thought this would be the opportunity to give her daughter what she had lacked. Sadly, this child was born with HIV and died shortly after she was born. She celebrated when her second child was HIV-. But, in a terrible twist of fate, her second child also died. This time, the cause was unclear but thought likely to be due to malnutrition after Daphrose stopped breastfeeding. When her third child was born, she was absolutely determined to avoid the tragedies of the past. She took her HIV medications diligently, followed all of the recommendations for breastfeeding, and joined our pilot group to ensure that her daughter would not develop malnutrition when she stopped breastfeeding. Indeed, her daughter thrived! She is HIV-, and did not suffer the complications of malnutrition as her other child had.

Life was looking good for Daphrose and her young daughter! Tragically, in January, Daphrose became very ill. She went to the hospital, where she was found to have an invasive form of pelvic cancer that is caused by the wart virus (HPV) and is stimulated by HIV infection. She was sent to the referral hospital in Kigali, only to be sent back to Ruli with the news that nothing could be done. Daphrose was in the hospital for 3 months before passing away from this aggressive cancer. Throughout her hospital stay, her sisters of the Ihangane Artisan Association visited her daily to provide food and emotional support.

 Her terrible loss is a reminder that there is still so much work to be done. Her passing weighs very heavily on our entire team, her family, her fellow program participants, and co-workers at Ihangane Association. Especially for the Rwandans who must watch these tragedies every day, it feels as though when they find a way to “plug one hole”, they lose someone to another hole. Despite this, their faith and perseverance carry them through and they continue to do their best. In Rwanda, I often hear “you must try” and “you can do your best”. For those like Daphrose and her daughter, we must try and continue to do our best.

Written on May 17, 2011 and posted later due to lack of internet access in Rwanda.



Artist Spotlight~ Uwitonze Leonille

Exemplifying Resilience

In 2002, Leonille was working as a secretary at the tribunal in Ruli Sector. One evening, she was returning to Ruli from Rushashi with her 3 month old son on a very crowded mini-bus when the vehicle crashed.  She saw nothing but blood and bodies all around her, and did not know if her son was alive or dead.

Leonille spent over a month in Ruli District Hospital’s intensive care unit, where she received many blood transfusions due to persistent internal bleeding. She was barely conscious during this time. When her mind finally cleared, she discovered that her back was broken.

“In fact”, describes Leonille, “I felt that every part of my body was broken”. She spent the following five months in the hospital trying to recover, as well as countless additional surgeries to repair damage to her broken bones. Knowledge that her son was indeed alive motivated her to continue living and healing.

Leonille discovered that she was HIV+ in 2007.  When she heard the words “HIV Positive”, Leonille felt as though she was dying a second death. She often asked God, “why am I not dead?”  She began to think about her future, and her son Joshua. One day, she woke up with renewed determination to survive.  She asked a friend to teach her how to bead so that she could work again.



“It is not good to just close my arms and die.  I must find a way to have the strength to live”

In the beginning, Leonille continued to feel as though her body refused to work. Every time she moved, it was like she was opening a wound. Gradually, she became stronger and more confident. Now, she finds inspiration everywhere. She looks at her son, who is now first in his class at school. She also looks at the board that displays her variety of beaded artwork, and she feels productive and proud. 

Leonille has developed a talent for creating beautiful earrings, necklaces, and beaded coasters. She is now expanding her skills to include beaded place mats to match her colorful coasters, and she is experimenting with a new design of purses. Through her work with the Ihangane Association, she is able to provide for herself, her son and her entire extended family. “God is number one”, proclaims Leonille “and everyone should believe”.


Reflections of a Rwandan Wedding Basket

The spirit of generosity is a hallmark of the Rwandan people. Even those in the most difficult of circumstances share what they have with others in need. This spirit is best exemplified by the traditional Rwandan Agaseke basket. The Agaseke is so important to the culture of Rwanda that an image of this basket can be found on the Rwandan national emblem. Often referred to as wedding baskets, the Agaseke is a symbol of generosity, gratitude, and compassion. Whether transporting wedding gifts, offerings to the priests, or bringing food to a friend in need, the process of giving is always the common thread. While in Rwanda this summer, we had the great opportunity to meet with seven HIV + women who are participating in a pilot program aimed at preventing malnutrition amongst HIV-exposed children. We sat as a group to discuss the strengths and weaknesses that were noted over the first year of the project. At the end of our meeting, we were presented with a beautiful Agaseke basket that was filled to the brim with peanuts.

The gift became even more touching when we later visited the homes of each of these women. I was shocked to discover the extreme poverty in which these women live, and even more overwhelmed by their generous expression of gratitude. In a separate program, The Ihangane Project works with two women’s handicraft associations to strengthen their business skills and to improve access to markets for their beautiful crafts. Each group has unique visions for their futures. Association Ihangane, founded by Dusabyemaliya Madeleine, envisions itself to be a teaching institution that specializes in the production of traditional Rwandan crafts. When Madeleine heard of the dire circumstances of the HIV+ women in the pilot nutrition project, she immediately offered to begin training these women in the art of handmade Rwandan crafts at no cost. As we speak, these two groups are now merged together to support one another and to find ways to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Now, you may wonder how this all relates back to weddings…..and to the wedding basket! These beautiful baskets reflect traditional Rwandan culture, and exemplify the resilience and generosity by which these women live their daily lives. Traditionally sized baskets can be integrated into a marriage ceremony, or miniature baskets can be provided as gifts to wedding guests. The Agaseke symbolizes the generosity and gratitude that each marriage would be blessed to have.   These beautiful baskets can be purchased through our online store at, or by sending an email to The Ihangane Project at

International AIDS Conference, Mexico City 2008

2008 International AIDS Conference, Mexico City 


The Ihangane Project in action! Board members and mother-daughter team, Wendy and Sharon Leonard, run the Ihangane booth at the Global Village during the International AIDS Conference. Dr. Ngirabega, our Rwandan counterpart, was the set up/breakdown expert~ and we would have never found all the lids to those baskets without his help! The conference was an incredible mix of fantastic lectures, ecclectic personalities, collaborations, and a little site seeing.