Every cardmaker we employ has a story of hope and personal triumph.
On any given day at CfA, our craft room is a bustling atmosphere of busy card makers. Sitting amongst several wooden tables, over two-dozen staff are smiling, concentrating, discussing, gluing, tracing, bending wire, and laughing. Many art supplies are sprawled across the tables including pastels, paper, and scissors. It is cool in the cement building, a comfortable retreat from the warm African sun outside. The faces and the atmosphere are friendly. Every staff member has a story of personal triumph to tell that contributes to this unique setting.
Here are a few of those stories:
Francoise was 21 years old when she came to work at CfA. She has no siblings, and no children. Francoise lives alone in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, but she isn’t alone.
She never knew her father who died soon after her birth, and she hardly knew her mum because at 4 years old her mother died so she went to live with her mother’s side of her family. But she left when she was 13 because she wasn’t treated very well and went to live with her father’s side.
She had to stop going to school in Senior 2 of secondary school because they couldn’t pay the school fees. But then Francoise went to visit her Uncle and he told her about CfA. That’s when we met her, and we warmly welcomed her and offered her a job.
When she arrived here she had no house of her own but now she uses the money she earns whilst making Cards from Africa to pay for the house where she lives, cook good healthy food, buy nice clothes, and save a little each month. She says that she wants to do her best in her daily work and for the first time in her life she has hope for a good future – especially because her country has a good vision.
Amazing Irene was 18 years old when she started work at CfA. She has five siblings and lives with her two brothers and two children, one of which is her own child. Her favourite meal would include rice, beans, and sweet potatoes. Irene has a great sense of humour and enjoys making her friends laugh.
Her father died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and her mother died shortly after. She has no memories of the genocide because she was only four years old at the time. She completed her third year in secondary school, but she had to stop so that she could take care of her baby. In school, her favourite subject was maths.
Before working at CfA, Irene sold popcorn on the street but when she started working for CfA, Irene has had a well-paying job. She is the sole provider of her household and has a lot of joy and price in being able to help her siblings. Her favourite part of coming to work is the time they all have together in the morning before they start work. She said that prays that CfA continues to grow and become more successful so that they will have more work and even higher wages!
Faida is the reason why we sell cards. She has 2 younger brothers and one younger sister and was 21 when she came to CfA.
When she was very young, her mother passed her on to her grandmother, and Faida hasn’t seen her mother since. After her grandmother died life became very difficult.
She started to have a hard life with so many difficulties. Faida stopped studying in her third year at primary school because of lack of materials/money for school uniform and would go to bed most evenings very hungry. She eventually found a family that offered to help her and her siblings and took her in. Whilst being with that family she was told about CfA who helps orphans, and she came was taught how to make cards.
Since coming to CfA her life has changed because the money she earns has changed her life. She also enjoys the companionship that she experiences at CfA. She recently got married and now has a son whom she loves very much.
She says that many of her difficulties have now gone, and she has started to save money each month in her own bank account. She wants to start up her own business one day, and knows that none of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the people who buy the cards she makes.
If you look on the back of one of our cards you may spot Faida’s name, as all our card makers sign their name on the back of each card they make!
Jeane is a strong-willed individual whose life has had a rough start. She currently lives alone but previously she had lived with someone else, but was recently kicked out. Jeane has three younger sisters and one older sister and they live with different families around the country. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she came to Rwanda in 1994 at the end of the genocide. Her parents fled to the Congo as refugees from Rwanda in 1959. Many of her family members died in the 1959 genocide, but her parents survived. Unfortunately, her father has since passed away. Her mom is alive, but is disabled and is unable to lift anything.
Before coming to work at CfA Jeane was unemployed. She was 19 when she started working at CfA, and Jeane is thankful for her job and feels lucky that she is able to help support her sisters and mother. Her goal for the future is to keep her job by working hard and carefully. She is also saving money, which she has never been able to do before.
Every time you BUY CARDS FROM AFRICA you are helping to CHANGE LIVES like Jeane’s!
Clemence was 19 when we first met her at CfA, and has one sister. She lives with 8 people, all of which are relatives. She learned some English at school and likes to use it when meeting English speakers. For fun, she enjoys singing in her church choir and visiting her friends and chatting.
Clemence parents both passed away in 2001 of an illness. After her parents died, other relatives took care of her. Since starting work at CfA, she has felt happy. Her favourite part of the job is making cards. This is her first job out of secondary school. “My favourite card is a birthday card because they gave me one on my birthday.”
Unlike many of our card makers, Clemence finished secondary school before starting at CfA, and she now wants to go to college to study finance soon. She is currently earning enough to enable her to save so that this will be possible.
“When I finish college I want to work for myself”. This is what we love at CfA. We love being a ‘stepping stone’ to something even better for them. We love seeing how our card makers arrive with very little hope, having had no dreams or plans because they’ve just been surviving all their lives, and gradually, as the reality sinks in that they have a regular job that pays month after month, they can begin to plan for tomorrow.
Not all of our workers have been able to put the past behind them just yet. CK was the first child of her mother’s second husband. However, when she was still very young, her father ran out on them, and they moved around, living with different relatives.
Then came 1994. Her father and four of her elder step-brothers were killed in the massacres. She and her mother were able to feign death during the beatings and escape. They survived for weeks by hiding in churches and lying under the bodies of people who had been killed there. However, with many open wounds from the beatings, her mother contracted a bacterial infection and eventually died.
When CK tells the story, she describes holding her mother in her arms, covered in blood, not knowing where her mother’s injuries ended and the blood of the corpses began. Having lost both parents, CK survived for a bit by working for her step-brother as a housekeeper. Then a cousin offered her a “job,” but he really brought her to be a servant for his family. When she scraped together enough money, she ran away to the city.
Almost three years ago we offered CK a job, and some of her new co-workers invited her to stay with them until she got on her feet. After fourteen years on the run, she was finally able to start settling down. When we asked CK if she had any happy memories of her life before, she said that she had forgotten them all. But now, with a steady income; honourable work; a clean, safe place to live; and people to care for her, one thing is definitely returning into CK’s life: hope.
Jeanette lives with her younger brother. She has a few siblings, but only lives with one, whom she supports as he doesn’t have a job. She enjoys cooking, especially rice and potatoes!
Both of Jeanette’s parents died of sickness: her mother when she was 4 and her father when she was 7. She lived with her older sisters who were able to take care of her before they got married. She finished the second year of secondary school, but stopped because she wasn’t able to pay the school fees.
Since coming to work at CfA when she was aged 21, Jeanette has had a steady job that enables her to pay for her basic needs and support her younger brother. It has made her life so much easier and more enjoyable.
At CfA she enjoys making cards and especially enjoys working in her team because they share tasks. Jeanette has started saving so that she can either return to finish school or start up her own small business – she hasn’t decided yet.
To this day Sophie has few words to describe what happened to her parents’ during the genocide. When asked, she is quiet for a minute before answering. “They cut them. Both.” What was life like after the genocide? “It’s hard to express. It was so difficult. I was so young with so little schooling, but I had four younger siblings in my care. And good work is hard to find.”
However, life was not hard forever because Sophie found Cards from Africa. Now, with the income she makes she can take care of everyone. Not only do they have food to eat and shelter over their heads, but a job at Cards from Africa also means stability in the community. “Others will let me borrow things or pay them later because they know I’m good for it. They trust me now.”
Sophie constantly encourages her younger siblings to work hard in school. “I was lucky to find Cards from Africa. Many people are not as lucky. Now, my brothers and sisters do not need luck because they have a good education.”
Esther had just turned 18 when she made her first card at CfA. She has one brother and one half sister. She recently got married and lives with her husband. Esther’s parents died of an illness when she was young and was then taken care of by her older sister. Unfortunately, her sister forced her to stop attending school to help out at home instead. “I was sad because I enjoyed attending school. Instead of going to school, I had to take care of my sister’s children.” Esther explained, “My life was no good before working for Cards from Africa.” Even though Esther was working so hard and doing so much for her sister, she was eventually kicked out of her sister’s home.
“Since working for CfA, I’ve been able to rent my own place. I’m able to buy food and clothing and my younger brother has been able to move in with me. I feel useful now. I feel like my life has purpose now that I have my job.”
“The morning prayer and devotional time before work is my favorite time because the loneliness goes away. The staff at CfA are like brothers and sisters to me.
When Florence was eight years old, her family was forced to flee Rwanda because of the genocide. Miraculously, her brothers, sisters, and mother all escaped to the Congo, but her father, who helped the family get away, was caught before he reached the border and was burned to death.
Florence and her family had to scrape by for years to make ends meet, but despite their best efforts they didn’t have enough for basic needs, such as health care. After years of hard work to support the family, Florence’s mother passed away when she contracted malaria and could not pay for medicine.
Eventually Florence and her siblings were able to return to Rwanda, but finding consistent work was next to impossible because she had not finished primary school. But since she found Cards from Africa her life dramatically turned around. Not only did it enable her to pay for food, shelter, and medicine, but she was able to save a lot of money and started putting her son through some good education and start up her own business. “My life was hard, and I was not able to finish school,” she said. “But my son will not have a life like that. He will get a good education and have an exceptional life.”
Florence left CfA to run her own business, having been in the CfA family for 8 years. We will miss her terribly, but we are glad that she is moving onwards, and that CfA has been such a lovely and important stepping stone in her life.
Jean Marie’s Story
Jean Marie has two brothers and a sister, and was 22 when he started working at CfA. He lives with his younger brother and his sister’s child. Jean Marie is responsible for his sister’s child, and his younger brother also works for Cards from Africa.
At the weekends Jean Marie loves to attend church and sing in the choir, which he really enjoys. He says making cards has made a huge difference to him and his family, including being able to pay for the education of his niece.
Jean Marie has awful memories of the genocide in 1994. He managed to hide himself away during a killing spree and watched while some of his family were murdered in front of him. He was six years old at the time. He managed to escape with his brother and sister and they went to live with his father and step-mother for a while, until his father died and the step mother moved away.
His Dad died in 1997 and after that he really suffered and started to take drugs and was in a very bad place for nine years. He scraped together money by doing temporary jobs on the street which he then used to fund his drug habit.
He has hope for the future, and has been saving towards starting his own business. He is an artist and would like to use art in his work.