Back in 2005, the future didn’t look too bright for Rosebill Satha-Sambo. Just over 20 years old, the young Malawian fell onto hard times after losing her job. Penniless and out of work, she found herself having to raise two baby daughters with no income.
To survive, Satha-Sambo resorted to a skill she’d learned from her mother while growing up: weaving bamboo baskets. Working from her home in the Malawian capital of Lilongwe, she began producing elaborate hampers for friends who were about to get married. Orders soon started piling in and, as business picked up, her creations quickly became the talk of the town — including in high circles.
“My baskets caught the eye of the late president Bingu Wa Mutharika’s daughter, Duwa, who was getting married,” recalls Satha-Sambo. “She ordered 1,000 wedding favor baskets that she needed in three weeks — there was no way I could have done it myself, so I got some youth and women who I knew could weave and together [we] fulfilled the order.”
That was in 2009, and by 2011 Satha-Sambo had set up JARDS Products, a thriving social enterprise focused on producing a wide range of eco-friendly bamboo furniture and baskets — from beautiful rocking chairs and mirror frames to hand-made dressing tables and storage units.
“JARDS is an acronym for my family,” says Satha-Sambo. “[Daughters] Joanna, Amanda, Rosebill, Dalitsa, who’s my husband, and Sambo, which is our surname,” she adds. “JARDS is all about family, community and friends, that’s who we are.”
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