Ecobank Kenya supports women refugee entrepreneurs

Refugee women in Kenya are earning a living by making and selling beautiful handicrafts.

Clementine at her stand at Ecobank

Clementine Uwizeya lovingly arranges beautiful handcrafted jewellery as she waits for her customers at the Ecobank headquarters in Nairobi where, through UNHCR’s LuquLuqu campaign, the bank today opened its doors to refugee women to sell their crafts as they mark International Women’s Day.

A refugee from Rwanda, Clementine fled her country 18 years ago with her young son after her husband was killed for political reasons.

“It was very difficult being alone in a new country with no money,” says Clem, as she is fondly referred to by her friends.

But today, Clementine proudly owns a jewellery line known as Super Chic and markets her beautiful African jewellery online.

“I sell my jewellery through KilMall and through my Facebook page,” she says. “Sometimes I also go to exhibitions that are organized by UNHCR and their partners.

But she has not always made jewellery. “I started off by doing fashion design after training at the Evelyne College of Design in Nairobi, though the support of UNHCR’s partner, Jesuit Refugee Services, where I graduated with a distinction,” she recalls.

“It was very difficult being alone in a new country with no money.”

However, due to a leg injury, Clementine was not able to pursue fashion design which required her to spend a lot of time on her feet. But the determination to be self-reliant saw her learn how to make handcrafted jewellery which she can make while sitting down.

Through her jewellery business, Clementine was able to see her son, now 23, through primary and secondary school. Recently he got a scholarship to go to university in Canada through UNHCR’s partner, Windle Trust.

Hakizimana Aline, a refugee from Burundi, also had a stall at the EcoBank premises, where she was selling a variety of clothing including children’s pyjamas, beddings, scarves and dresses, among others.

Hakizimana (right) with a customer

She came to Kenya in 2015 with her five children aged between 24 and eight years.

“I am a pastor but being a refugee without other means of livelihood, I decided to learn how to make clothing to make ends meet,” she says.

Aline started off with a small loan that she got from a micro-finance company and with time, although business is not always so good, she has managed to sustain and grow it.

And she has a message for women, “Women should not be afraid to take risks such as loans because without risks they cannot develop.”

“The women have great talent and their products are of high quality.”

According to EcoBank’s Corporate Affairs and Communications Manager, Vincent Musumba, International Women’s Day was a good opportunity for the bank’s staff to interact with the refugee women as well as support their initiatives.

“The women have great talent and their products are of high quality. Eco Bank is quite pleased to have been able to give them an opportunity to market sell their products,” he said.