FAIR TRADE | ETHICALLY MADE | ARTISAN MARKETPLACE

Azizi Life

by Emily Betzler June 01, 2015

A new week calls for a new introduction! We love sharing the BB family with you. Today, we are happy to share the story behind...

Azizi Logo

Tell us about the history of Azizi Life -

Azizi Life Rwanda was founded in 2008 by staff from Food for the Hungry, a Christian NGO.  From the very beginning, the vision was that Azizi Life’s craft business would be the first in a family of social enterprises that served to facilitate economic development by rural Rwandans.  Central to this vision was the plan that Azizi Life would be self-sustaining and would be locally owned and operated within 10 years.  We are very excited to be making great progress in this plan.

Azizi Life is a self-sufficient business, and is on track to be run by our Rwandan colleagues by 2018 (or before!), with ongoing partnerships with volunteers in the US, UK, and beyond.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Azizi Life supports over 25 independent artisan cooperatives through fair trade purchases, coaching in design, and resources for growth and leadership development in the areas of faith, economics, and family thriving. Azizi Life offers handcrafted home goods, décor, jewelry, bags, and holiday decorations.  These products are made from locally-available and natural raw materials, such as sisal, banana leaf, and jacaranda and musave woods.  The majority of these raw materials come from plants which continue to live and grow after the fibers are harvested.

Azizi 1

What are some of the trials and triumphs you have faced in bringing your organization to where it is today?

Our social enterprise is focused on love.  We have been well-loved by Jesus and feel honored to share that love through fair trade.  Azizi Life’s artisan partners in Rwanda have experienced unfathomable sorrow through the 1994 genocide, as well as the great weight of poverty.  Our team is committed to partnering with the artisans for a better life, and our relationships with them are central to everything that we do.  We are entrepreneurs and advocates, coaches, counselors, and cheerleaders.  It is our joy to add to the beauty of lives on both side of the ocean.  Love also is first and foremost in our relationships with our customers.

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Tell us more about Azizi Life and some of it's impacts?

The first benefit to the artisans comes when they join with a cooperative to practice their craft together.  Weavers have told us about the isolation of poverty, and the relief and comfort found in the caring community of their artisan group.  How so?  There is indeed economic benefit, but very significant is the camaraderie that comes as the artisans sit Azizi artisan 2Azizi artisanstogether, confiding their troubles, sharing advice, and celebrating victories.  The cooperative is a context for building bonds of reconciliation, and for discussing important issues like HIV/AIDS prevention.  Artisans help one another during times of need, and reach out together to help others. Azizi Life fortifies this social and relational benefit with economic gain.  We decide fair prices in conjunction with the artisan groups, and then work to represent them in markets that it would be nearly impossible for them to reach themselves.  Azizi Life also provides coaching in quality and design, and ideas for product development.  With regular income, the artisans are able to lead their families to thriving, providing basic materials that many have lacked in the past.  These materials include things as simple as soap, shoes, and sufficient food.  An overwhelming priority for the artisans is the education of their children, and with the income from their craft, artisans are able to pay for school fees and materials, as well as health care.  Several of the artisans have been able to build more substantial homes with their income- complete with electricity and water!

As an organization what excited about right now?

In Rwanda, Azizi Life has begun a second business in community-based tourism whereby artisans host foreign visitors for a taste of rural life.  Azizi Life Experiences has proven to be a wonderful channel not only for increased rural income, but for beautiful connections of mutual understanding and respect.   We look forward to building this program as a positive experience for both the visitors and the artisans!  

We can't wait to see what the future holds for you. What are some of your hopes and goals for 2015?

In 2015 we plan to continue to offer our artisan partners the opportunity to purchase solar lamps and fuel-efficient stoves at cost through an interest-free program.  Within the next five years, we expect to have fully operational our third social enterprise, an established Rwandan-based nonprofit organization,and have our artisan-led community development initiative in full swing.  

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Azizi Life partners with more than 25 independent cooperatives and individuals, 247 artisans in total.

The majority of the artisans, 82%, are women, and all are survivors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.  They are subsistence farmers living in rural communities in Rwanda’s Southern Province.  The artisans are weavers and woodcarvers who use a mix of traditional techniques, materials, and designs.  Many of the artisans learned their craft from family members or neighbors, while others were trained in government-supported or church-based vocational programs. Building up to the establishment of this program, Azizi Life has been offering various faith-building, life-building, and community-building resources for our artisan partners.  We offer a weekly Bible study for anyone interested, and support the artisans by praying for them and their concerns.  Weekly English lessons are also offered, as well as periodic training of trainers in areas such as first aid (in conjunction with the Rwandan Red Cross) andbuilding strong character (in conjunction with Kugana 10-40).  Our team is also available for mediation and advising when cooperatives face challenges.  
We are amazed with the work Azizi is doing, and can't express enough gratitude for the opportunity we have to partner with them in such a Beautiful way.
Keep up with Azizi Life - follow them on Facebook here!




Emily Betzler
Emily Betzler

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