Friday, August 8, 2008

Artisan Profile: SADHNA -

Sadhna began in 1998 as a handicraft income generating project for a small group of 15 women from a rural village in Rajasthan, India. The women were trained in stitching and today, the group has grown into a large family of 600 artisans. They are a fair trade organization committed to empowering rural and tribal women, both economically and socially, and enhancing their self-esteem. The organization works with over 40 producer groups of 30-35 members, helping in the production and marketing of the handicraft products. The product range consists of garments such as fashion tops, scarves, skirts and homes furnishing such as bags and cushion covers. All the products are created out of hand woven, hand printed fabrics, mainly in cotton and silk. The organization has two shops in Udaipur, where they work and is planning to have a shop in Delhi. The women participate in more than 10 exhibitions a year for marketing their products within India.
The organization is providing employment to more and more women who begin with a 3-month training program and throughout the year participate in skill and design development workshops. They earn a fair share of the proceeds from their products and play a significant role in all aspects of decision making and profit sharing. The women are all members of the organization and are part of the Managing Committee. The participation of the artisans has given them the confidence to participate in community development activities and to address their concerns through group efforts. The women are playing a larger role in household matters, as well as in the decision making of village level issues. They believe that economic empowerment proves to be a path to larger social and political empowerment.

Artisan Profile: MESH (Maximizing Employment to Serve the Handicapped) -

Started 25 years ago in New Delhi by a group of North American expatriate wives, MESH ― or Maximizing Employment to Serve the Handicapped ― provides opportunities for disabled people and their dependents, especially those affected by leprosy, to be rehabilitated in order to become self-sufficient. MESH's founders focused their initial efforts on a leprosy colony north of Delhi, where they encouraged people to weave and raise poultry. Today, MESH buys and sells handicrafts from some 54 autonomous groups of disabled and leprosy-affected persons all over the country. They provide market assistance, product development and training to artisans and operate a large retail store of fair trade products sourced from the different groups. The store is filled with jewelry, fashion bags and accessories, clothing, bedspreads, cushion covers, tablecloths, papiermâché products and more. They also have a design studio for conducting regular workshops and trainings for product development with their artisans. MESH has now started a two year project to help implement the Fair Wage Project in collaboration with World of Good. The project looks at the inputs the artisans are making and evaluating their production to ensure their earning enough to get out of poverty. The organization is strong and well-established with a large market presence overseas. Many of their products are sold through Ten Thousand Villages, as well.

Artisan Profile: HIMALAYAN WEAVERS -

Himalayan Weavers is a great organization working to promote the traditional crafts and skills of people living in the Himalayas. Led by a husband and wife team, they work with traditional weaving communities to produce handwoven woolen shawls, scarves and stoles using natural dyes. The project helps sustain the weaving tradition and provide employoment to men and women in mountain communities.

The organization works with the Bhotia people, legendary traders, shepherds, spinners and weavers in the Northern Himalayas. For generations they have nutured relationships with nomadic Tibetans by trading agriculture for wool to produce beautifully woven carpets and stoles from traditional looms. Greater access to mill products has led to a decline in traditional wool craftsmanship and now Himalayan Weavers is helping to support the weavers by providing design and market assistance to help market their products.
Himalayan Weavers believes in strengthening the local community and the environment by using a totally local and natural process. The products are made from wool brought from Tibet and then hand washed and spun by women in the local community. The wool is then dyed using natural dyes extracted from plants growing in the Himalayas. The local weavers take the various shades of light and dark colored wool to weave together on traditional looms in their home. The result is a beautifully handspun scarf or shawl made from natural dyes.

Himalayan Weavers pays fair wages to their producers and dedicates 25% of their profits to education causes in the community. I had the opportunity to visit them in 2008 and was amazed at their efforts. They're helping to sustain the weaving tradition in the mountain communities and producing beautiful, natural products that everyone can enjoy. They're a young organization, but already their products are in high demand. AWAZ is helping to expand their market in the US and already has some buyers.

Artisan Profile: STREE SHAKTI -

The Purkal Youth Development Society is a registered charity dedicated to enhancing the lives of disadvantaged rural youth through education and empowering women through skill development. I worked with this organization for 6 months and was impressed with their honest and sincere efforts to help elevate the communities they work in. They work in a rural village in Northern India in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains where they operate a Learning Center for youth and run a handicraft skill training program for women. The society is providing mentoring and education to over 140 youth and helping over 70 women in the village earn a steady income to care for their family. Stree Shakti, meaning ‘women power’, is the name of the handicraft project which for the last five years, has been teaching women how to make quilts and various other home and fashion products. The women apply beautiful appliqué and patchwork techniques to cotton and silk fabrics and make items such as cushion covers, handbags and placemat sets.

The products are unique and high quality which has helped them earn an international reputation, especially for their patchwork quilts. The success of the program has created a demand for products and more women are joining the program daily. The women are organized into four Self Help Groups which give the women greater control and decision making over their work. PYDS provides the women with free working capital, management, designs, infrastructure and tranportation. The program also includes healthcare benefits, a security fund for issuing loans and an English and Computer Training Course for those who are preparing for a professional career.

Yuva Shakti

In addition to a focus on women empowerment, PYDS works to educate and provide support to over 140 children and youth in the village where they work. The society provides the children with scholarships to go to good English Medium Schools in the city and then they return to their Learning Center in the village after school for help with their studies and development. Over 13 teachers and 10 staff work with the children to provide holisitic support that includes a daily meal, attention to nutrition and healthcare, career and personal development. The society also has an education program for young children and an English and Computer course for Young Adults in the community. The society survives off of donations and child sponsorship. You can also participate in their Fund A Meal and Healthcare Scheme by paying $35 to sponsor a daily meal for the children. After my experience working with PYDS, I can say that they're doing true, honest work for the community. I can verify that your donation will directly help to benefit the children they work with. Sponsor a Child or Fund A Meal today!

Get Involved with Our Project

We are currently buying from different artisan groups and fair trade organizations in India and selling their products in the West. In an effort to raise support for their work and fundraise for the Gujjar Project, we are currently supplying student organizations, churches and community groups in the U.S. with handicrafts produced by established artisan groups here in India for hosting a sale in their community. The project is a unique way to connect handicraft producers in India with consumers in the West and develop support for a new movement of social responsibility and ethical consumerism.

Why Host a Sale?

  • Develop support for handicraft artisans and fair trade producers from underprivileged communities in India who are using their handicraft as a way to sustain their livelihood
  • Help develop financial support for the Gujjar Project and community development in India
  • Raise funds for your organization; a percentage of the proceeds are given to the host organization
Below are a list of the type of products. Additional info about the artisan groups are available on the blog.

Products include:
  • Handbags, purses and toilet bags
  • Silk scarves
  • Hand woven woolen scarves, stoles and shawls
  • Knitted stocking caps, scarves and socks
  • Paper mache painted boxes
  • Greeting cards made from recycled paper and Himalayan dried flowers
  • Jewelry
  • Cushion Covers
  • Placemat Sets

The Artisans and their Work

We’re primarily working with artisans who are producing handloom and handicraft items. The groups are spread throughout North and West India and vary between large and small operations. Craft work in India is a long tradition and many people in rural communities sustain their livelihood by conserving the local handicraft. India is known for their handicrafts and brightly colored hand printed textiles. The crafts and fabrics are produced using various techniques and natural resources, most of which are unique to the state or tribe in which the product is produced. Some products contain hand stitched patchwork and embroidery, while others are made from natural plants, like bamboo or jute. Many groups in the Northern Himalayan Mountains use lamb's wool to weave together shawls and carpets or hand knit scarves and blankets. While men also participate in some artisan groups, the majority are women. As a male dominated society, women in India are often expected to serve as housewives and have little opportunity for education. The projects teach the women a skill which enables them to become income earners in their household, helping to build their confidence and respect in the community. The projects not only help the women earn an income to care for their poor families, but also help to empower and strengthen their voice and status in the society.

Helping the Poor Become Sustainable through Self Help and Income Generation

The concept of Sustainable Development is simple. It's a type of development that helps people survive by supporting local, natural processes. It's a new type of development that cares for the environment and helps communities learn how to take care of theirself. It's happening in various forms in low income countries around the world with projects for harvesting rain water, organic farming and food and handicraft production. These projects serve as an income generating opportunity for many rural, low income communities who use local resources and skills to create a sustainable livelihood to care for their family. In India, I learned about many groups collecting and selling honey, organic milk, preserving fruit for jams and producing natural soaps. Many communities traditionally grow organic herbs, fruits and vegetables and survive off of local resources which they often use to earn an income with. There is a big focus on women empowerment and one of the biggest areas of work involves women groups who use traditional art to produce woolen items, textile products and handicrafts. Unfortunately, many families are stuck in poverty because they don't have the necessary capital, market support or knowledge to develop their work and create a profitable, sustainable business for supporting their family in the long run.

In the last 10-20 years, there has been a greater focus on self sustainability for the poor and various NGOs around the world are working with individuals, artisans and farmers to provide training and business support to help them run their own self employment venture. Cooperatives and Self Help Groups are formed which are democratically governed by the members and include savings and healthcare schemes. The profits come directly back to the producers to care for their family and invest in community development. Many of these projects are part of the Fair Trade Movement which helps artisans and farmers in countries like India and Kenya, earn a fair price for their products in the global market. Popular products include handicrafts and food items, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar and bananas. Fair trade retailers and producers are dedicated to a list of guidelines that includes paying fair wages, working in healthy conditions, promoting gender equity and supporting environmental sustainability. Consumers in the West can go to their local market and purchase products with Fair Trade certified labels on them and help create demand for a new movement of social responsibility and ethical consumerism.

The term Social Entrepreneurship relates to business ventures that create social change in communities. This is exactly what these projects are and it includes things like Fair Trade, Microfinance and Women Empowerment. Thanks to the Grameen Bank, low income families are recieving small loans and marketing support for helping to start a business that will help them create a sustainable income to provide health and education for their family. Whether it’s a milk cooperative or a women's Self Help Group, these are the projects that are improving many lives and helping people in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia get out of poverty. Check out these websites to learn more.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Who We Are : Our Projects


We are a team of dedicated social entrepreneurs from India and the U.S. working to empower underprivileged communities in India through skill training and income generation. We believe in helping people realize their potential and are working to connect those in need with the resources and knowledge for developing their abilities and expanding their opportunities in life. It is our aim to help individuals and communities receive the necessary tools for achieving a healthy and sustainable quality of life.

MISSION: To help underprivileged communities throughout India lead a healthy, self-sustainable life through education, skill training and community development


We are working in the northern states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains north of Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand. Our work is focused on skill training and income generating projects for helping to support community development in underprivileged communities. To begin our work, we plan to reach out to the Gujjars, a forest dwelling tribal group that has lived in the foothills of the Himalayas for centuries. Their main subsistence is milk production, which they are dependent upon for their livelihood. Due to their location in the mountains, they have limited transportation and are often exploited by middle men who give them a low price for their high quality, organic milk. With little support from the government and local community, the Gujjars have struggled to earn a voice in the market and meet the basic needs of their family. The women endure a physically demanding lifestyle fetching grass and firewood and taking care of the cows and their family. When they have time, they stitch traditional hats for their husband.

Handicraft Skill Training
With a handicraft skill training project, we aim to empower the Gujjar women to use their traditional craft to improve their quality of life and help create a sustainable income for their family. The project focuses on providing an income generating opportunity for the women to produce embroidered textile products. We aim to provide product design and market support to help connect their products to markets in India and the U.S. By helping the women become income earners in their family, we can help the women have a larger voice in their community and improve their ability to care for their family.

Milk Market Assistance
We aspire to work with the Gujjar men to help them earn a better price for their milk production and raise the standard of living in their community. With regular transportation and business support, we would be able to expand their market for selling milk and connect them to local businesses, institutions and hotels who are willing to pay higher rates for pure milk. By helping the men get connected to the resources and networks, they will be able to sustain their self and create a good quality of life for their self and family.

Project Objectives:

  • To develop the income capacity of individuals and communities through enhanced skill training, business support and knowledge

  • To serve as a connection between the producer and the consumer by providing market assistance and product development

  • To ensure access to quality education, healthcare and community assistance for women, children and families in need


Our projects are focused on skill training and income generation to support community development in the areas where we work. We aim to expand our projects and help more individuals and communities in need. In an effort to help artisans sustain their livelihood, we are working to develop a network of handicraft producers for becoming connected to the global community. We plan to register AWAZ as a craft business in the U.S. in 2009 to continue to help market their products and raise funds for investing back into the communities where we work. In addition to the milk project, we aspire to target the needs of the people and provide skill training and assistance for other business development and employment opportunities for individuals in rural communities.

Sarah Mitts is a graduate of Kansas State University with an undergraduate degree in Business Management, International Studies and Non Profit Leadership. Her career focus is in international development and while at KSU, she helped to organize many activities to raise awareness about international social justice issues, such as co-founding the Fair Trade Advocates student organization and starting the KSU Save Darfur Team. After work experience in India and Paraguay, Sarah chose to move to India in 2008 to work for an NGO helping underprivileged women and children and begin work on the Gujjar Project.

Rao Talha received his MIB from IMS Ghaziabad near New Delhi, India in 2005 and began working as a marketing consultant for a computer solution company in New Delhi. He does shooting as a sport and represents Uttarakhand State in national championships. Originally from Saharanpur, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, Talha’s family owns a farm nearby the Gujjar community. He grew up learning about the local tribal group and their struggles and wanted to do something that could change their lives. After meeting Sarah in 2005, he realized his passion to serve those in need and returned to his hometown to start the Gujjar Project.

To learn more about our work and get involved, contact Sarah Mitts at or Rao Talha at

Our Aim

We believe in helping people reach their potential and want to help low income individuals in rural communities in India get the technical knowledge, skill and support they need to build a healthy, sustainable life for theirself and family. We aim to help develop opportunities for income generation and provide business support to artisans, farmers, individuals and village communities. We are currenting working to develop a craft business in the U.S. for marketing handicrafts made by artisans groups and raise funds for supporting business development, skill training and community development in rural communities in India.

Our initial project involves working with a marginalized tribal group outside of Dehradun in the Northern Himalayan Mountains to help restore a traditional craft and provide market support for their organic milk. The project will help the people to earn an income to elevate their standard of living, provide support to their families and strengthen their community. We would also like to provide support to individuals in other rural communities to help target the needs of the people and provide skill training and assistance for other business development and employment opportunities. We aim to develop a U.S. registered charity for collecting donations to support training and business ventures for individuals in communities we work. Our overall aim is to serve as a facilitator to help people living in rural areas get access to the resources and income opportunities for creating a just, sustainable life.