Artisan In-Spotlight: Esperance Balingayao

At Asta Lifestyle, we are very privileged to work with artisan partners making big strides in the lives of artisans working with them.

This is the story of one such brave and talented artisan Esperance Balingayao, working with WomenCraft. This inspiring journey from her home country Burundi to a refugee camp in Tanzania is one of courage, strength and resilience through all odds. This is HER JOURNEY. HER STORY.

Esperance fled her home in the middle of the night with six children, when they heard government militia were entering neighboring villages and people started disappearing. She was on her own with her children as her husband had already fled earlier with his second wife. Leaving everything behind, carrying only what was required, Esperance and her children walked through the night without light, following only the small paths in front of them.

"I remember the way very well as this was the third time that we had to leave our home in Burundi and flee to camps in Tanzania"

From their home in Burundi, it takes two full days to reach the Tanzanian border on foot. Using only the small paths to avoid getting caught on the main roads, they continued walking through forests and mountains and crossing rivers from sunrise until the evening. After reaching the border giving details to Tanzanian immigration officers, the family had to wait for three more days to get on a bus which took them and other refugee families to the Mtendeli camp.

"The biggest challenge for us was that we did not travel with any food. The journey is far and we all suffered from hunger. Some of my children are still very young, so sometimes I had to carry them"

Esperance with her six children arrived in Mtendeli camp in September 2017 and were provided two makeshift tents made from UNHCR tarps. One tent was for her husband and herself and the other for their six children and two orphans who they took into their care. Life in the camp is hard. Being farmers, they were not able to plant any crops in the camp apart from maize plants between the tents. They are dependent on monthly food rations from World Food Program which are not enough to feed the entire family. Getting water is also a big problem. They are only allowed to get water from the public taps in the camp but there are always long lines of people waiting their turn to collect water.

 "Some days we are unable to collect any water at all. So, the next day you have to really fight to get your water"

If they fail to get any water in the camp, the refugees are forced to collect from river outside the camp. But, as refugees access to outside the camp is restricted and are not allowed to leave the camp unless special pass to leave is asked, which is very difficult to get. As they are not allowed to leave, the refugees cannot trade with surrounding communities and there are no real income opportunities inside the camp. 
Though life in the camp is difficult, Esperance is happy that they are able to send their children to school in the camp.

"We feel mostly safe in the camp but I really get worried when the Tanzanian government says that the Burundian refugees should go back home claiming that the situation in our country is now stable. I am in touch with my relatives who remained in Burundi and I know it's not safe for us to return"

Esperance joined WomenCraft's weaving group from the very beginning of its formative years in the camp. She saw some of the products brought by WomenCraft and loved the designs and high quality of the products. It was challenging at first as Esperance did not know the designs and had never used moulds before. She took up the challenge and quickly mastered the new techniques. Hard work and dedication has now enabled her to lead a group of 50 artisans in the camp.

"We have a strong weaving tradition in our region. My mother taught me how to weave when I was thirtheen years. Today, I am so happy to have an income through my weaving as part of WomenCraft and to be able to provide for my family in the camp"

Her family is now proud of her as well. They know that through weaving, they can improve their lives in the camp by the income. Esperance and her family use the income to buy food to supplement the insufficient food rations and buy decent clothes and soap. Esperance is also saving money to invest into establishing a small breakfast place in the camp.

"We have fled three times already. We are so exhausted and we can't ever imagine returning to Burundi"
"All I want in the future is for me and my family to live in a place that is safe and peaceful. Even remaining in the camp is ok for us as long as we have weaving opportunity"
Image Gallery and Story: WomenCraft

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