The Isano weaving cooperative in Kigali, Rwanda is made up of 12 young women who were all affected in some way by HIV/AIDs. Not all of them suffer from the disease – some have parents that do or are orphaned because of it, and they came together from their membership of the NGO CHABHA (Children Affected by HIV/AIDS).
The Isano cooperative was founded in 2013 by Rwandan-born, US-educated Celine Mudahakana. Mudahakana had volunteered in 2012 for CHABHA, which offers support to children affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty in Rwanda and Burundi and partners with community-based organisations in both countries.
Mudahakana returned to Rwanda in 2014 and began to train a group of young female members of CHABHA to weave in order to give them a valuable skill from which they could earn a living. Mudahakana raised money to buy looms and the Isano weaving cooperative was born.
The word “isano” means unity, and the cooperative was named for the new sense of family and belonging that it gives to its members. They produce beautiful woven scarves, many of which are sold to the US. Each scarf bears a label with the name of the weaver who made it, giving girl a sense of pride in her work.
CHABHA was founded in Rwanda in 2004. The NGO has weekly gatherings so that the children don’t feel alone in what they are going through. The organisation aims to encourage entrepreneurship in the youth they work with, through projects like weaving or goat and rabbit farming. CHABHA offers business skills training and computers with Internet connections to help projects like Isano off the ground.
Both CHABHA and cooperatives like Isano are working to change the future for young people affected by HIV/AIDS, many of whom had to drop out of school when their parents couldn’t afford the fees.