Project Pailles is our project for women basketry weavers in the commune of Ambohimahamasina in the Ambalavao district of South – Central Madagascar. The project focuses on reducing women’s poverty through the promotion of basketry products at the same time as protecting the endangered Pandanus species in this region (Pandanus was traditionally used in basket weaving). Again, this is typical of Feedback Madagascar/Ny Tanintsika’s dual approach to tackling environmental problems through a development project. Since the project began it has developed to focus on women’s rights in addition to working towards promoting children’s rights, by aiding a youth club and health centre in Ambohimahamasina.
As a result of Project Pailles which has trained women on basketry techniques as well as providing eco-friendly products for their work, the women of Ambalavao decided to set up an association for the basket weavers called ‘Soamiray’. This association was to provide a forum for the women to share ideas and practise good basketry techniques so they could improve their product to sell more on the local and international market.
When I reached Ambohimahamasina last week we joined a meeting Soamiray were holding in our regional office. I accompanied my colleague Herizo (Ny Tanintsika’s marketing officer) to update Soamiray’s catalogue to include the new range of products sold by the women. The catalogue is available both electronically and in paper form which is mostly used in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo as well as the second largest city on the Island, Fianarantsoa. Since it began, Soamiray has also been able to extend its reach to the international market and has clients in both France and Italy who continue to make purchases.
I wanted to find out how Soamiray has aided the women in their lives. At the meeting I met Nantine Razafindravola, the president of the association who happily answered a few questions. Nantine has been the president since 2006 when Soamiray was first created. In this time she has been twice elected to lead the association. She explained passionately that she is pleased to be the president for the organisation which brings “much progress to the women’s households“. On asking her about her future hopes and plans she told me she wants other women to take charge and run more workshops in the region so Soamiray can continue to expand.
The members of Soamiray run fifteen workshops assited by Ny Tanintsika in the Ambalavao region. On the Friday we walked to Bekirindro, the nearest village where a workshop on basketry techniques is held once a week. In Bekirindro, the workshops were set up and have been run by basket weaver Justine Ravamampionana, for the past two years. When we arrived she had just been officially elected as the workshop leader. She explained that over the years they have made various announcements allowing them to increase the number of women who attend the workshops today. During this time they have also been able to make much progress. While we were at the workshop another woman who has attended Justine’s workshops from their beginning confirmed this: “I now have a lot of experience, I knew a few things before. But now I know so much more”.
It was a remarkable step that Soamiray was initially created and the fact that it has expanded and reached the spheres it has to sell its products is a great achievement, especially as the traditional role of the woman in the region is to look after the home and children. The project has also provided an opportunity for women in the region who haven’t obtained the ‘baccalauréat’ (le bac) which is a series of exams at the end of secondary school adopted from the French system. This project has helped to elevate the status of the woman in the region, by allowing them to have more economic freedom and independence.
If you would like to purchase any of the lovely basketry products listed in the Soamiray Catalogue please contact me by email: email@example.com.
Photo 1: Herizo interviews Justine and other women who attend the workshop at Bekirindro
Photo 2: Justine Ravomampionana, the newly elected leader of the workshop at Bekirindro