The Western Union Foundation works with nonprofit organizations across the globe to provide opportunities to refugees so they can contribute to their new host country and have a chance at a better life. We also bring a voice to refugees, by sharing their experiences and celebrating their contributions to their communities.
In response to the increasing demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Western Union Foundation supported Artisan Alliance – helping to create the PPE Grant Fund and Producer’s Coalition. This program enabled producers in artisan organizations to expand their PPE manufacturing capacity by retaining and employing artisans to make PPE providing needed equipment to health workers and community members. One of the organizations that Artisan Alliance supported through the PPE Grant Fund and Producer’s Coalition project is RefuSHE, working with refugee girls in Kenya. Read below for two stories of women being helped through the program.
Ngutete Marie Chantal, Kenya
Ngutete Marie Chantal, a 55-year-old mother of five, came to Kenya in 2006 after fleeing genocide in her home country, Rwanda. She joined RefuSHE’s Women Ambassador Group three years ago to improve her savings and access loans to boost her business. Chantal is an experienced tailor who made a good income to meet her family’s needs. With the outbreak of COVID-19, her business took a hit as the government’s health safety measures effectively put her out of business. With little to no income,
Chantal and her family could no longer afford to pay rent and moved to a smaller and cheaper house. Making cloth masks became a lifeline for her family during those challenging times. Protective masks were not easily accessible at the onset of the pandemic, and this allowed her to sell them to local shops and customers at an affordable price. However, medical masks soon became widespread and the demand for cloth masks locally dwindled. “Making masks helped me survive during the Corona period so I know the importance of this job,” Chantal shared. Tailoring masks with RefuSHE’s Artisan Collective helped her improve her skills. “The pattern and design of these masks are different from the simple ones I used to make. So, I must be keen and sew carefully to avoid mistakes. Previously, I could make up to 30 masks a day but with this design, I must work slower to do a great job,” she added. Fulfilling the mask orders from RefuSHE’s Artisan Alliance has helped Chantal meet her family’s basic household needs, such as groceries and supporting her children’s education. She has learned how to stretch her money and developed grit and determination to adapt in times of crisis.
Musabyimana Clemance, Kenya
Musabyimana Clemance used to make clothes, bags, and other custom items before the pandemic hit. She made her biggest sales during pop-up events and craft shows organized by refugee-affiliated organizations. Now, she is creating face masks for RefuSHE’s Artisan Collective as the main source of income in her family. She first learned tailoring skills six years ago, shortly after joining RefuSHE’s Women Ambassador Group. She consistently honed her skills growing from a complete beginner, hand-sewing seat covers to making bags, clothes, quilts, and other crafts with a machine. Her business was thriving, but the pandemic caused orders and sales opportunities to run dry. Piles of the merchandise that she makes lie in storage bags around her house because no one is buying. Clemance is the breadwinner for her family of six. Due to COVID-19 stay-at-home directives and licensing regulations, her husband, a street cobbler, stopped going to work several months ago. She has four sons ranging in age from 14 – 24 years old, three of whom are currently enrolled in school. She fears for the well-being of her second-born son whom she cannot afford to send to college. “It helps a lot,” Clemance says of the money she makes sewing masks. “When my youngest son is sent from school because of [lack of] fees, I’m able to send him back with the money I get from making the face masks. I am also able to buy food for him to carry to school and water for the family.” Clemance is grateful for the mask orders and is hopeful for more work to continue to support her family.
About RefuSHE – Nairobi, Kenya
RefuSHE’s mission is to protect, educate, and empower orphaned, unaccompanied, or separated urban refugee girls and young women through a holistic model. They first address a girl’s urgent, immediate needs for safe shelter, medical care, nutritious food, and education. Once these needs are met, RefuSHE provides vocational training and economic development through their social enterprise, the Artisan Collective. The Artisan Collective is a step towards refugee women’s independence, where they express themselves creatively while learning tangible business, design, and tailoring skills and earning an income. Since its founding in 2008, RefuSHE has directly supported more than 3,715 refugee children and youth through a holistic model and has reached more than 22,000 refugees in Nairobi through community outreach initiatives.
The grant from Artisan Alliance and the Western Union Foundation enabled RefuSHE to employ artisans from its Women Ambassador Groups (WAG) artisans who produced more than 600 cloth masks. The artisans received income for each mask they produced, helping them to support their families and basic household needs, such as rent and groceries in a very difficult economic situation.