Welcome to Rug Aid
In late 2004, internationally renowned rug maker and teacher, Heather Ritchie, from the UK, visited Zanzibar in East Africa. Local women and children who she lived with, were fascinated when she demonstrated the very simple and safe technique of rug making - using recycled local material, clothes, yarn and plastic bags - and quickly picked it up.
On her return to the UK, Heather Ritchie developed her idea. After a great deal of discussion, she and two friends set up Rug Aid (a not-for-profit social enterprise). Heather's goal was to make a difference to some of the poorest communities in Africa by providing people with the opportunity to bring about change in their lives 'from the bottom up'.
Rug Aid's first project started in The Gambia in February 2007. Heather heard that begging had recently been outlawed there, a move which deprived many blind Gambian adults of their only source of income: After learning of the new problem this already underprivileged group faced, Heather specifically chose to work with people with visual impairments. She thought she would be almost exclusively teaching women and children but, when she arrived for her first workshop session, she found to her delight that the students were a mixed group of men and women. Heather felt an immediately empathy with these people, all of whom have a degree of visual impairment or are the sighted members of the family of someone with a visual impairment, because her father became blind when she was five.
Rug Aid trainees in The Gambia make rugs and wall hangings which they are encouraged to sell direct and locally: Rug Aid itself does not currently export trainees' work for sale. At a later stage, items produced in the Rug Aid workshop may be sold world-wide through fair trade organisations.Every Rug Tells A Story
Rug Aid encourages people to draw on the stories of their lives - families, animals, friends, transport, homes, schools - as well as the colours, patterns and textures of their environments, both rural and urban, to produce beautiful and very salable works of art which will bring pleasure to both the creator and the purchaser. The project harnesses the artistic skills people already have and inspires people who are not sure that they have any artistic talent to express themselves through colours and patterns.
In 2009, our own Miriam Miller and Jacqui Thompson, while on a world wide Rug Making tour, joined Heather in The Gambia. Here they are with Ebrema Trewally.
Locally printed African cotton is often used instead of the more traditional fabrics as in the west, making colourful and beautiful rugs.
This year, Heather and her daughter Chrissie, a qualified rehabilitation officer for people with visual impairments, were able to help a man dying from hydrocephalus which was untreated. A friend of Heathers funded his treatment in the UK and was devastated to be told, after the operation, that he had lost his sight.
Mustafa was quick to learn rug making and benefited greatly from Chrissie’s instruction on how to make best use of the white cane he had been given. She helped him to become familiar with the clinic’s grounds, a process called ‘orientation’, so he can make his way independently. That was difficult because there are few fixed landmarks to use and even fewer straight walls to square up to. His biggest obstacle, literally, is likely to be the donkeys which (as Heather R put it) ‘like to chill out at random places in the shade’: at least the white cane will help him to know they are in his way.
You can find out more about the work of Rug Aid HERE
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