The idea of Ndara (pronounced en-dara) was born when Charlotte became frustrated with the world’s perspective on the Central African Republic (CAR) following the civil war that broke out in 2013.
Charlotte was born and raised in this unknown country in the heart of the African continent. Until the 2013 military coup, international media rarely covered CAR. But, after the coup and the violent ethnical conflict that ensued, CAR became the center of attention in media all over the world. The media however, only spoke of the war and the crisis in the country, it only portrayed a bloody conflict and violent people. Charlotte did not recognize her home country in these stories. Even though Charlotte knew firsthand that the stories of bloody violence were true, she also knew there was another parallel, and defining, story of the country she calls home.
A story of resilience, strength and bravery against all odds.
Charlotte decided she wanted to tell the other story. Another story of CAR.
A story of how resilient Central Africans live life in spite of violence, uncertainties and decades of an ever disintegrating state. In the face of adversity the Central Africans go about their daily lives like anyone else. They work, they plant, they celebrate and mourn. They take care of each other, build communities and raise their children as best they can.
And so, the idea of Ndara was born. A company that would provide stable, professional work opportunities for Central African artisans while using its public platform to share the joy, resilience, beauty and creativity of Central Africans with the world.
Charlotte shared her idea of Ndara with her friend Racey. Racey had spent nearly two decades working with small farmers across Francophone Africa, and 7 years working with farmers in CAR. She saw firsthand how determined Central Africans were. Year after year, they planted seeds and planned their harvests, raised livestock and tended their orchards without knowing if new waves of inter-communal violence would prevent access to fields, or destroy harvests or livestock. She also saw how dependency on humanitarian aid destroyed this determination and provided incentives for people to present themselves as weak, in need and unable to cope.
Discouraged by the lack of sustained improvements to Central African livelihoods through humanitarian development programs in the Central African Republic Racey wanted to test a different model of progress and development through private business. She wondered if a business model that laid the responsibility of achievement and progress in the hands of each person involved would be a more sustainable way to improve the livelihoods of Central Africans.
Their vision was clear.
Ndara would employ artisans with a will to work and learn, and a creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Previous knowledge of hand made crafts would not be required, and Ndara would teach those who were illiterate how to read and write. Artisans would be treated equally, and would work as a group to decide on new products, new designs, and manage quality. Charlotte and Racey hoped that within a few years, daily management of the business could be turned over to an entirely Central African team. The name Ndara embodies this vision. Ndara means to be skilled in Sango, the national language of the Central African Republic. Someone who has ndara, is someone who is skilled. The company would build skills, teach skills and promote skills.
Ndara was founded as a private company in May 2017 with the aim to support resilient and skilled Central African artisans by building their creative handwork skills using materials that are locally available. Charlotte developed the first Ndara product; a rug braided using local fabric. She taught the skill to a group of women that she gathered by word of mouth. Through trial and error they perfected the rug in the makeshift workshop at Charlotte’s home in Bangui, the capital of CAR. Soon, they started to develop other products with the scraps of fabric from the rug production. Racey set up the company registration, accounting systems, website and webshop, and networked with other artisan efforts to learn from them.
The first sales were advertised through the Bangui grapevine, and it soon became clear that demand was high for unique, high-quality crafts made in CAR. Within six months Ndara started selling out of products, and Charlotte and Racey realized that Ndara had the potential to have a larger impact.
Ndara grew organically and today, 4.5 years after its creation, Ndara employs 14 artisans full time, has a permanent workshop and has opened up a boutique in Bangui. The boutique is fully managed by the local Ndara team. The artisan women who could not read and write when they joined Ndara now manage invoices, inventory and the till.
From the first day of production the Ndara artisans have been paid more than a living wage for their efforts. For the artisans it is the first time in their lives that they have steady income. They can now independently take care of their own needs, and invest in their futures. Several have been able to save money and make investments such as buying their own land or starting their own businesses. This empowerment is visible in the way the women carry themselves straight and tall, and in the sparkle in their eyes.
The media will always tell stories of violence and atrocities in CAR; this attention may help stop the violence someday. Ndara, however, will not wait for that day. Ndara will simultaneously tell the Central African story of hope, joy and perseverance. Ndara will build a peaceful and durable solution for Central Africans founded on their greatest strength: resilience.
Words and small deeds have the power to change, but only if they too are heard. Ndara seeks to speak these words and do these deeds, pushing the balance as much towards hope as possible.
Charlotte & Racey
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