I spent yesterday on a misguided Christmas shopping blitz. Without a plan, I headed for Oxford Street (yes, I have lost my mind!) in search of inspiration. I knew the Fair Christmas Fayre was happening at the Salvation Army so I ducked in there to escape the throngs. The Fayre is an ethical marketplace selling Fairtrade, recycled, eco and ethical goods. I managed very quickly to buy my first gift (gorgeous and ethical but I can’t reveal what it is yet- the recipient might be reading!) Then I came upon the Cards from Africa stand. Chris Page was manning it along with a lovely multilingual volunteer whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch. They proceeded to explain a little about the company and I was honestly blown away by the innovative approach and resultant success. Chris was living in Rwanda for several years and wanted to do something to help orphaned young people who were left with the responsibility of looking after younger siblings. He asked young Rwandans what they wanted, and their response was – a job. Rwanda has experienced many difficulties over the past decade, not only the atrocities of genocide in 1994, but also needless deaths from AIDS and malaria. As a result, about half of the 11 million population is under the age of 18.
Cards from Africa was set up by Chris Page and artist Gabriel Dusabe in 2004 with £80 investment, and within 6 months they were selling cards. With some further investment, Chris and Gabriel developed the designs and trained young people to make the handmade cards which, by the way, are super cute and funny. Resourcefulness, once again, is a key factor of their success; CFA uses scrap paper destined for burning to redevelop its own materials. By re-pulping the waste paper, dyeing it and letting it dry in the sun, CFA’s materials are completely environmentally friendly. Chris told me that CFA now employs 90 people in Rwanda and sells cards globally. After the initial set up and training, the Rwandan site is now completely self-sufficient and run by the Rwandans themselves. CFA is also fully committed to the principles of Fairtrade and notably encourages the staff to unlock the poverty cycle for themselves by working in a sustainable manner and saving what they can after feeding and clothing their families, and paying school fees.
This is such an exciting company and acts an an excellent example of business success in Africa. It really proves that small changes can make a huge difference to someone’s life. If you would like to buy Christmas cards, there’s still time, click here. CFA makes cards for every occasion and you can also become a card seller to earn a little extra cash by selling cards in your local community or you can design a card. I love CFA’s “trade not aid” ethos but the people involved go further in offering support to the workers. There is a counselling service available to the staff and group activities foster a family environment for those who have lost their parents at such a young age.
If you’re very lucky this Christmas, you might even receive a CFA card from me!