Kigali, Rwanda, July 27, 2020 – Gahaya Links, in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation’s COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program, has provided 40,000 vulnerable families in their artisan network with face masks, which will help them prevent the spread of COVID-19 while enabling them to safely engage in income generating activity. The face masks were produced by 1,406 tailors, mostly women, providing economic opportunity to the artisan community which has been severely affected by the lockdown measures initiated mid-March in Rwanda countrywide.
Through this partnership, Gahaya Links has worked with its vast network of women cooperatives to protect its members against the health risks of the pandemic. These women, who come from homes with an average of six family members, will receive two masks for each member of their household benefitting a total of 240,000 people. To date, all 480,000 masks have been distributed and as lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted, these families now have the tools to resume work safely and in compliance with public health guidelines. Wearing protective face masks in public, washing hands with soap often, and practicing social distancing are all new behaviors and will require education and sensitization of the masses to ensure our health and safety. Since April, all citizens of Rwanda were required to adopt these critical new hygiene habits, and Gahaya Links has produced a training video to be used at the local district level to educate the public on the proper usage and maintenance of protective face masks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world into economic distress. People in the informal sector have been impacted the most and while all sectors have taken a hit, the artisan community, like many others who rely on a daily wage, became unemployed very rapidly.
Gahaya Links has been empowering women artisan communities in Rwanda over the last 20 years, through enterprise design of home decor, jewelry, and textile collections inspired by the rich heritage of Rwandan artisanship. Initially started as an opportunity for basic income generation and skills training for 20 women has now grown to produce positive multiplier effects across a network of over 40,000 families and their communities. When the pandemic hit Rwanda, Gahaya Links swiftly pivoted its business, harnessing its powerful network of artisans to protect the most vulnerable members of its community.
“We believe that women are the heart of the home and the backbone of their community. When a woman’s life is empowered, so are the lives of the people around her. We’re thankful for the partnership with the Mastercard Foundation which has enabled us to protect 240,000 women and their families, while providing an opportunity for over 1,400 artisans to go back to work,” says Joy Ndungutse, Gahaya Links CEO & Founder.
The Mastercard Foundation COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program has two main goals. First, to deliver emergency support for health workers, first responders, and students. Second, to strengthen the diverse institutions that are the first line of defense against the social and economic aftermath of this disease. The Program has also supported small businesses to withstand the economic effects of COVID-19, and contributed to public health response through the production and distribution of critically-needed health care products and equipment. “Many people and sectors in our societies have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Mastercard Foundation COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program, we are partnering with organizations like Gahaya Links to develop the right response to enable economies to recover quickly and to rebuild for the future,” says Rica Rwigamba, Rwanda Country Head at the Mastercard Foundation.
The fight against COVID-19 is a national public health concern and one that the Government of Rwanda has prioritized through the mandate of all citizens wearing face masks in public. Gahaya Links was among the first companies approved to manufacture and sell protective face masks at an affordable price. Gahaya Link’s partnership with the Mastercard Foundation aligns with the Health Ministry’s sensitization efforts by reinforcing the importance of wearing protective face masks and providing free masks to the families that otherwise would not be able to afford to purchase them. The organization identified the 27 districts where the women of the Gahaya Links network reside and partnered with the Vice Mayors of each district and respective cooperative leaders to ensure a smooth and efficient distribution plan was executed for the 480,000 masks.
Gahaya Links Limited is a Rwanda handicraft company based on the simple principle of women economic empowerment through fair trade. Using the power of handicrafts as a vehicle for positive change, Gahaya Links aims to lift women out of poverty by providing training in basket weaving, jewelry making and tailoring, and creating sustainable income-generating opportunities based on the heritage of Rwandan artisanship. In addition to empowering women, Gahaya Links works to reinvent traditions to preserve. Today Gahaya Links has grown to include over 40,000 women weavers in over 50 different cooperatives.