“Kurandza” = “to love” in Changana, the local language of our women in Mozambique
Last fall 2014 after returning from serving three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, Elisabetta Colabianchi an American from California fulfilled a long-term dream of founding Kurandza. Kurandza is a purpose-driven fashion company that creates handcrafted jewelry and accessories with women in Mozambique. Their mission is to empower women, the majority of whom are HIV positive, through education and employment opportunities. In addition to receiving fair wages for their work, profits from sales go back to this community to fund development projects.
Kurandza got its start while Elisabetta was a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching HIV-positive women the skill of sewing so that they could earn a sustainable income and provide for themselves and their families. Today, Kurandza sells online and are supporting nine women in Mozambique.Although I have already added Kurandza to my permanent page of “Gifts that Give Back”, I wanted to learn more about the story behind it. I had an opportunity to conduct and interview with Elisabetta to learn more about her inspiration behind Kurandza and what she hopes to achieve. Here it is. A Conversation with Elisabetta Colabianchi, Founder and CEO of Kurandza
Me: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What did you study and why did you choose to be in the Peace Corps?
Elisabetta: I’m from San Francisco, California, but have lived in many different places that I still consider home. During college in San Diego, I studied Biology, foreign languages and Peace and Justice Studies. I was so fortunate to be able to study abroad in Mexico, Argentina, and in Italy, where I spent my junior year. In Milan, Italy, I took several courses in International Relations at the Italian university and also studied fashion. After college, I moved to New York City where I worked for an anti-hunger non-profit, helping low-income residents apply for public benefits and learn about financial literacy and nutrition. There I realized that I wanted to do similar work abroad, teaching people skills that would help them have a better future. I’ve always loved learning new languages, traveling and adapting to different cultures and making a difference, so I thought Peace Corps was the right next step. I was thrilled when I found out that I would be a Community Health Volunteer in Mozambique and would be learning Portuguese (the national language) as well as a local language, too!
Me: What inspired you to start Kurandza?
Elisabetta: As a Community Health Volunteer, I worked at the local hospital counseling HIV positive women on treatment adherence and the prevention of transmission of HIV to their babies. I noticed that many of the patients weren’t able to reach the hospital every month to pick-up their treatment because they didn’t have an income to pay for the transportation expenses. I wanted to help these women stay on treatment and continue attending their support groups and counseling sessions so that they and their babies would remain healthy. This is what inspired me to start an income generation activity for these women. My friend, Percina, thought that teaching these women how to sew would be a beneficial skill for them for their entire lives, and I’ve always been interested in fashion and creating jewelry, so we thought starting a sewing cooperative was a perfect choice!Me: What were some of the challenges you faced in starting Kurandza?