Sunday, November 23, 2008

Supporting the Artisans - Exhibitions in the U.S.

KSU Fair Trade Marketplace
I just returned to the U.S. after working 11 months in India and was able to participate in the first real exhibition showcasing the products made by the artisans we are supporting in India. It was a great success and the people loved the products. I helped to start the Fair Trade Advocates student organization at my university in Kansas and just before Christmas, they organized a two day marketplace for fair trade retailers and artisan groups to share their products. There was more support then the previous years and we nearly sold out all of our products! Some of the vendors included well-known Ten Thousand Villages and Equal Exchange, as well as some new initiatives by Kansas' own Two Hands World Shop, Urban Haat (go Jermaine!) and AWAZ. Look out for the new project working with Ugandan women called AWAVA!

The Artisans
While I was in India, my work in the non profit sector led me to discover the plethera of initiatives to help generate income for low income communities. From handicrafts to soap, jams and honey, women and other low income groups are getting low interest loans from microfinance institutions to start their own businesses. With their work, they are able to earn an income to meet their daily needs and provide education and healthcare to their children. The products are also environmentally friendly. Many of the products are handmade from natural substances grown or sourced locally, such as plants, fabrics, dyes and recycled ware. We visited many groups and brought products back from six different artisan groups. I'm now living in the U.S. and am helping to market their products to raise support for their work and fundraise for our Gujjar Project!

For 6 months in 2008 I worked in Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas with an NGO called the Purkal Youth Development Society (PYDS). I helped develop fundraising campaigns, design a new website and strengthen the management and record keeping systems of the organization and their work. There is a great need for professional development in the non profit sector in India and through our work with AWAZ, we will continue to partner with organizations in India and provide support. During my time in India, my friend and business partner, Talha and I, discovered a variety of artisan groups producing beautiful crafted products. PYDS had a project called Stree Shakti working with over 100 women in the village who handstitched quilts, bags and other products. They make nice quilted products from traditional Indian fabric, such as toiletry bags, handbags, cushion covers and placemat sets. Their trademark are their patchwork quilts, so go to their website and check them out - international delivery and no minimum order! You can also make a difference by getting involved with their youth education project by sponsoring a child or funding a day's meal!

We also learned about a couple other projects with women and artisans around Dehradun, where we lived. The Himalayan Weavers work in a mountain community above Dehradun with traditional weavers producing hand-woven scarves, stoles and shawls from lamb's wool and natural dyes. That's right, they use natural dyes and it's beautiful! The scarves are natural, beautiful and the people love them!

Chandroti is an income generating project for women in a village outside of Dehradun who produce knitted woolen blankets, shawls, scarves, caps, vests and more. Their yarn is good quality, warm and soft. The project is led by an Indian woman who is now helping to provide employment for over 150 women in the village. They have beautiful throws, cute footsies and scarves, one of which contains an attached cap.

Sadhna is a well established microenterprise ran by over 600 women artisans in villages in Rajasthan. I had the opportunity to visit the women and was amazed to see their involvement in the program. The women apply traditional embroidery and applique techniques on clothing items, wall hangings, bags, blankets and more. Their trademark embroidery is a sight to see on cushion covers, bags and even placemat sets.

MESH is another wonderful fair trade organization helping to provide a source of income for disabled persons. They have a beautiful store in Delhi with a diverse range of products from artisans around the country who they work with. I'm a big fan of their coasters, jewelery, handbags, paper mache boxes and woven baskets.

Dastkar is one of the oldest organizations working to empower handicraft artisans in India. I visited their Ranthanmbhore Project in Rajasthan and found the women engaged in their work and even a traditional block printer providing designs and fabric for the products. The women produce a large assortment of clothing items, home products and bags.

No comments: