Empowering Families in Rwanda: Asha’s Story
November is National Adoption Month. Here at Noonday Collection, we love to celebrate and support adoptive families. Jessica Honegger held the first Noonday Collection Trunk Show in 2010 to raise funds to bring her son Jack home from Rwanda. Since then, Noonday Collection has provided financial support to more than 1,000 adoptive families through Adoption Trunk Shows.
We believe children should grow up in families. We love adoption. We also love empowering vulnerable mothers and fathers so they can keep their children and care for them well. In many of the communities where we work, from Ethiopia to Vietnam to Guatemala, poor families struggle to meet their children’s basic needs. When parents don’t have a way to provide their children with food to eat, a place to live, or the opportunity to go to school, they sometimes place their children in an orphanage. We are passionate about creating opportunity, empowering vulnerable parents to earn a sustainable income and keep their families together.
Just four years after the first Noonday Trunk Show, Noonday Collection has impacted more than 2,000 Artisans, reaching more than 8,800 family members. We are pretty excited about these numbers—but we’re even more excited by the stories of transformation we hear from our Artisan partners. Today we want to tell you about Asha.
Asha lives in a neighborhood in Kigali, Rwanda where large homes surrounded by walled gates and lush gardens line the main road. Asha and her four children live in a small house down a muddy path on one side of this road.
Asha was a child when nearly one million people were slaughtered in the Rwandan genocide. She was just 18 years old when her husband died from complications of diabetes and she became a widow. When her husband died, her daughter Zahara was a toddler and she was pregnant with her son Eli. One year later, Asha’s sister died, leaving her with two more children to care for, Sarah and Clementine. Not even twenty years old, Asha was a widowed mother caring for four children.
A friend offered her a small sum of money to start a business to provide for her children. She began to sell jewelry on the side of the road, but she could not afford to obtain a business license. When the police discovered her business lacked the proper documentation, they took away her goods and put her in jail for five days. While she was in jail, they took her jewelry and the money she had saved. When this young mother was released from jail, she had no way to provide for her children.
In 2011, when Jessica Honegger and her husband Joe traveled to Rwanda to adopt their son Jack, they spent time with an American woman named Jennifer, who was living in this same neighborhood in Kigali. The women living in Jennifer’s neighborhood would approach her to ask for emergency help with school fees or medical care. Over time, Jennifer’s neighbors became her friends, and she longed to do more to empower these women to provide for their own families.
While in Rwanda, Jessica and Jennifer began to dream of how they could create a path out of poverty for Jennifer’s neighbors. Over the next year, Jennifer partnered with Jessica and Noonday Collection to start a sewing cooperative. The women were able to go to sewing school for six months and to set up a sewing cooperative called Umucyo. In 2012, Asha and the other women of Umucyo created their first pieces for Noonday Collection.
Two years later, Umucyo business is growing. Asha is able to care for all four of her children with her earnings from her work at the cooperative. She is able to pay her rent, to buy food, and to provide them with a good education. Asha says that she experiences “much happiness working here” and is thankful that she no longer needs to beg to provide for her children.
Asha is now able to dream of a brighter future for her children, who have grown into teenagers. She encourages them to study and to do well in school. She wants her daughter Zahara to be a doctor and her son Eli to be a lawyer. She wants her niece Clementine to be an electrician and Sarah to be a businesswoman. This is the beauty of sustainable, reliable work. Where before she lived in survival mode, only able to think as far as her children’s next meal, now Asha feels free to dream big for their futures. She is confident in her ability to care for them and as a result is empowered to experience true hope.