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Mahama to New York

The distance between New York City, where D grew up, and Mahama, nestled against the bank of the Kagera River, which serves as the natural boundary between Rwanda and Tanzania, cannot be measured in miles and feet alone. A barren parcel of tse-tse fly-infested land just a couple of years ago, Mahama now hosts more than 55,000 refugees from Burundi, who began streaming into Rwanda in the spring of 2015 and continue to arrive in smaller numbers more than two years later.

D has visited the refugee camp several times over the course of the last year. He did not witness the early days of the emergency response, but even during the last year the transformation has been incredible. The tent city that sprawled across the denuded landscape when D first visited Mahama last August has been replaced by semi-permanent mud-brick shelters. An integrated school, where thousands of refugee children learn side-by-side with kids from the host community, is now the largest school in the country. And a state-of-the-art water purification facility now serves the needs of both the camp and the surrounding community.

For all the millions of dollars that the U.S. Government and other donors contribute in humanitarian assistance, sometimes it’s the smallest of projects that have the profoundest impact. Ensuring that refugees have basic necessities – shelter, food, sanitation, and protection – is a moral imperative. Enabling refugees to live with dignity by providing them with opportunities to contribute to their own well-being is also important. This week D had the chance to attend the closing ceremony for one such project.

We typically do not engage in product placement on our blog, but this exception to the rule is well worth it. A small grant from the Embassy had enabled Indego Africa, a social entrepreneurship NGO that has been partnering with African artisans for the last decade, to work with a group of women from Mahama. Over the course of nine months, Indego taught them small business skills, refined their craftwork, and helped the women register a cooperative with Rwandan authorities.

As with Indego’s other crafts, the products are designed in New York and handmade locally. This means not only that you can purchase these crafts in the United States, but also that each purchase you make will have a direct, positive impact on the lives of women and children who through no fault of their own have been placed in the direst of circumstances. Check out Indego’s story and visit the online shop here.

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