The power in my hands
Donatila’s entire family of six, four siblings and their parents were brutally wiped out by bandits forcing her to flee from her native country of Burundi to the Kakuma Refugee Reception Centre, Kenya in 2016. After a month of stay at the Centre, she was re-settled to Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement where she currently lives.
‘’In Kalobeyei, life was extremely difficult, I had to rely fully on food rations (Bamba chakula) provided by UNHCR and UN WFP …’’ says Donatila.”
“I moved from house to house looking for casual work; washing dishes or doing laundry. This helped me supplement Bamba chakula.
I was attached to a family that later turned hostile towards me. They would steal my earnings and sometimes deny me access to my Bamba Chakula Voucher, forcing me to spend day and night at the homes of my employers. However, this turned out to be a blessing to me…”
Her interest in joining the Safe from the Start project, was piqued by a colourful basket she saw with a woman in the camp, it took her back to her days at home in Burundi where basket weaving is traditionally done by women and passed down through thousands of generations. The woven baskets are given as gifts to the groom’s family during wedding celebrations. She had learned how to weave baskets of various sizes, shapes and designs from her mother, who also taught her how to design different patterns and combine fabrics.
She was curious to know where the market for the baskets was. The lady revealed to her that Action Africa Help International (AAH-I) was working with women in basketry, jewellery, fashion and design. Who then agreed to accompany her on the next visit to the business centre. This was the turning point as she joined the Safe from the Start project in 2019, as one of the most skilled basket weavers.
Donatila works with two mediums – Duom palm dried leaves/dried reeds and Bulbino tapes. She incorporates kitenge material to make unique designs. Her journey as an artisan began at the age of 12, through her mother who oriented and mentored her in weaving after discovering her hearing impairment which affected her ability to express herself clearly, forcing her to drop out of school, since the parents could not afford to pay for the special school for the deaf.
Her first payment from the project, from selling 4 sets of baskets gave her hope that she could be self-reliant. She continued with her work which became her primary source of income and was very critical for her single household. While at AAH-I, she has attended various training on Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA), financial literacy, group formation and dynamics, entrepreneurship where she learns how to price the baskets and quality production.
“These training sessions have helped me sharpen my skills in craftsmanship and managing my finances and I also know how to identify and report cases of exploitation or abuse. I am so grateful to AAHI, they supported me I had challenges in my shelter challenges and had no source of food, Esther, one of the staff helped me by reporting the case to UNHCR protection representatives, more so, since I am not able to speak on the phone, one of the incentive staff agreed to be my contact to solve the case. I now live happily in my own house and have access to my food ration! I have made numerous friends during my work at the business centre, which helps me to feel that I am a part of a community.’’ said Donatila.
She believes that just like her, other refugee women have the power in their hands to work, speak up against any exploitation and live out their full potential.