After taking a trip to Rwanda, Houghton graduate and now Buffalonian, Chris Way, was so inspired by what he saw – the people, their ingenuity and their resiliency – that he decided that he would work to assist them in a way that no one had done so previously. What Chris saw was an opportunity for African artisans to make better lives for themselves by simply doing something that already came naturally to them.
For decades throughout Africa, artisan-shoemakers have been fashioning footwear for themselves from discarded tires for generations. These sandals are a staple in some African countries, an affordable necessity for many, worn on a daily basis. At the same time, while these people are able to fashion together simple, creative footwear, they are also at times living in a world of poverty that none of us in the West can possibly imagine.
Once the reality of the impoverished communities was realized, and after researching the artisans’ resourcefulness in sandal craftsmanship, The Atinga Project was born. It was decided that Chris and co-founder Nabintu, of the Congolese diaspora and a founder of Foundation of Hope based in Rochester, could connect the artisans to the U.S. market and sell the recycled taxi-tire footwear. The sales would give the artisans and their families an extra source of income through an exciting new opportunity. In fact, 30% of the money generated from sales goes directly to the people who make the shoes. The social business model also helps to recycle the tires that previously would have ended up in village dumps (see some of the first shoes crafted for the program below).
Today the Atinga Project is a small organization run out of DIG (640 Ellicott St.) on the BNMC campus – see the Atinga Team. The founders have giant aspirations, however. The group has now launched a crowdfunding campaign to realize a goal that will ultimately help to get the organization grow from a small startup to a thriving operation. In the meantime, the business is already working wonders. With the money that was made available from initial sales, the lead artisan’s wife (in Rwanda) was able to open her own store.
Already the Atinga team is looking at ways to bring similar artisan programs and ideologies to refugee communities right here in Buffalo, NY, and then additional cities after that (recycling tires and offering artisans financial rewards for their skills).
“Whether it is our local neighbor in Buffalo, or a global neighbor abroad in the Third World, we’ll never solve anything if we don’t listen, learn, and walk with them in their shoes.” – The Atinga Project
To lend your financial support (whatever you can spare) to this significant project that has roots in Rwanda and Buffalo, be sure to visit the group’s Kickstarter page. Be sure to check out the rewards in the right hand column. Also visit the group on Facebook.
“Let’s come together, as an #AtingaCollective, and take a stand in their shoes for African dignity, American humility, and outstanding economic development.” – Atinga Project