Traditional Art in India
For many communities, art serves as the basis of culture. Unfortunately, though, traditional art forms commonly disappear during industrialization as cheap, mass-produced traditional-looking art reaches tourist vendors much quicker than authentic, quality traditional art. India has experienced this especially hard, almost completely losing multiple forms of art. Fortunately, multiple NGOs, in partnership with the Indian government and UNESCO, are stepping up to defend traditional art in India while also fighting poverty through traditional art.

Banglanatak’s Art For Life’s Focus on Community

Banglanatak’s Art for Life program serves as one of the biggest art-focused NGOs in West Bengal, a region in India bordering Bangladesh. For nearly 17 years, Art for Life has focused on fighting poverty through traditional art, especially in rural areas. The program focuses on three key aspects to improve the situation of traditional artists: artistry education, connections to markets and exchange collaboration. In collaboration with the government of West Bengal, the Art for Life program has built craft hubs for artists to sell their products and performers to host shows in 15 West Bengal provinces, reaching nearly 12,000 beneficiaries.

Art for Life has made a major contribution to fighting poverty through traditional art in India. Nearly 10,000 artists have risen out of poverty through the program, a stunning success rate. When participating, artists have seen a two and a half times increase in their income, with many buying houses and dramatically increasing their living standards. The communities around these craft hubs have developed into major tourist destinations as well. This allows these communities to keep their traditional cultural heritage alive while bringing in tourists, a rare combination. Women artists especially benefit from this program, with communities with craft hubs seeing a doubling in the number of female artists.

As part of its program, Art for Life also supports cultural exchanges so traditional artists worldwide can interact and spread awareness about their practices in artistic communities. Recently, Art for Life participated in an exchange in the Czech Republic where Indian and Czech artists exchanged playing styles and appreciation for their respective cultures.

Saturday Art Class: Starting Artists Young

Another NGO focuses on young children in its drive to fight poverty through traditional art. Saturday Art Class fills the gaps in primary school where art class commonly does not receive funds or schools discard it in favor of maths and sciences. Including art in the primary school curriculum can have many positive effects in reducing poverty. Children become more creative, engaged and keener problem solvers when they learned this crucial subject in school. This can help children develop skills critical to reducing poverty, including entrepreneurial spirit and creativity.

Saturday Art Class has reached more than 5,500 schoolchildren across 46 partnerships since its founding in 2017. By supplementing the skills taught by public schools with the critical Social Emotional Learning brought by art, Saturday Art Class helps lift children out of poverty by giving them the soft skills they need to succeed. Additionally, by exposing children to art at a young age, some will choose to go into the traditional craft sectors that Art for Life promotes, ensuring a generation of traditional artists to come.

Both of these initiatives have made great strides in fighting poverty through traditional art in India. While Saturday Art Class focuses on the development of children’s artistic skills, Art for Life focuses on training and equipping current artists. By fighting poverty through traditional art, these initiatives are preserving India’s rich cultural and artistic heritage for generations to come.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Wayuu Artisans in Colombia
La Guajira, an arid peninsula located on the northeastern border of Colombia and Venezuela, is home to an indigenous clan known as the Wayuu. This region is one of Colombia’s most impoverished and underdeveloped regions, and poverty in La Guajira remains incredibly high. With Venezuelan refugees and local coal mines depleting resources, the Wayuu rely on ancient weaving techniques to support their communities. Min and Mon is a company that empowers Wayuu artisans in Colombia to rise out of poverty by utilizing their craftsmanship skills and culture.

Who Are the Wayuu?

In the desert of La Guajira, the Wayuu reside in traditional housing structures called rancherias, or huts built from palm leaves, mud and dried cane. Indigenous to Colombia, these clans are typically matriarchal. In other words, women hold important political, spiritual and economic roles. As others typically expect women to preserve the traditions of their tribe, young girls prepare for this task as soon as they begin to menstruate. Over the course of several months to a year, girls go through a ritual known as confinement during which they may only contact their female family members or prominent women in the community. During this time, they inherit Waleker — the gift of weaving.

Wayuu, meaning “people of the sun, sand and wind,” communicate their ancestral roots through the act of weaving and trade handwoven goods in exchange for food or money. Due to drought and extreme poverty, the Wayuu tribe has had to transition from a self-sustaining agricultural economy to finding jobs in local factories or the service sector. The inequality present in rural areas of Colombia has deeply affected indigenous communities and ravaged their access to basic resources. With a poverty rate of roughly 84%, the Wayuu suffer from high infant mortality rates, child hunger, drought and a lack of opportunities to progress.

Hanging by a Thread

While rural areas across Colombia experience extreme poverty, the Wayuu remain disproportionally affected due to their proximity to the Venezuelan border. At the turn of the century, many Colombians flocked to Venezuela in search of promising economic opportunities. However, the current Venezuelan humanitarian crisis has prompted many to flee the country and return to Colombia. The presence of smugglers operating in the desert has created an influx of refugees settling in or around La Guajira, thus forcing the Wayuu to share already limited resources with a growing population.

The Cerrejón coal mine, which has been operating in the area since the 1980s, exacerbated this problem. As the world’s 10th largest mine, daily drilling operations, explosions and water demand have run La Guajira dry. Cerrejón uses nearly 4.2 million gallons of water per day, running an already tight supply very low and leaving the coal dust to contaminate what remains. In 2019, only 68.2% of people had a water connection and 96% lacked access to clean water as existing wells were either dried up or polluted.

Malnutrition in La Guajira

Limited resources have also led to an increase in malnutrition, making conditions especially difficult for child poverty in La Guajira. Human Rights Watch estimates that one out of every 10 Wayuu children under the age of 5 die of hunger; a rate that is six times higher than the national average. In 2019 alone, La Guajira accounted for 7% of the country’s deaths from malnutrition. Corpoguajira, an environmental agency in the area, reports that three-fourths of families face food insecurity with many children eating roughly one meal a day. While various organizations have attempted to work with the government to initiate change, the lack of a proper census withholds accurate case data on deaths from malnutrition and dirty water.

Weaving a Legacy

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, policy amendments have emerged to help regulate emergency sanitation concerns and provide access to necessities. Though this has helped indigenous communities to an extent, it has done more to isolate them from nearby cities that they relied on in the past to do business. Without an outlet to trade their handwoven goods, the Wayuu tribe has had to find other ways to make money.

One such way has been the partnership between Wayuu artisans in Colombia and company Min and Mon, which has allowed Wayuu artisans in Colombia to reach an international audience. Founded by a “husband and wife team,” Min and Mon is committed to preserving Colombian traditions of craftsmanship and is inspired by the ancient leathercraft native to the area. Min and Mon have newly partnered with Wayuu communities, commissioning them to produce unique designs crocheted by tribes in La Guajira. Not only has this project been able to support Wayuu artists but it has given them a crutch on which to grow their businesses and provide for their families.

In aiding poverty reduction in La Guajira, Min and Mon empower Wayuu bagmakers to continue a sacred tradition passed down for generations. Though the fight to end poverty in rural regions of Colombia wages on, giving communities a chance to help themselves is a step in the right direction.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr

Made51 artMADE51 is a global initiative created by the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Free Trade Organization to showcase the creative talents and skills of refugees while giving them an opportunity to earn an income by selling their art. MADE51, which stands for Market Access, Design and Empowerment for Refugee Artisans, connects artisans with markets in order to economically empower artisans and help them rise out of poverty. U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements states that “Rather than viewing millions of refugees across the globe as a burden, MADE51 sees untapped talent and potential that, if unlocked, can directly benefit” refugees, host countries and local enterprises.

How MADE51 Works

MADE51 gives refugees the opportunity to build sustainable livelihoods by selling “artisanal home decor and accessories.” Sales from MADE51 products allow “refugees to contribute to their host country’s economy” and reinforces their ties with society. Instead of seeing refugees as a burden, MADE51 gives them a platform to showcase their talent.

The initiative connects artisans with local social enterprises in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. According to Herbert Smith Freehills, “International trade in artisan crafts is now valued at over $32 billion per year, with 65% of handicraft exports coming from developing countries.”

MADE51 promotes economic inclusion using an innovative marketing solution. It identifies refugee artisans and gives them a platform to showcase their traditions and skills by helping them form partnerships with local businesses. Then, the initiative brings in its partners’ technical expertise for branding, marketing, capacity building and more.

The UNHCR also conducts assessments to make sure partner businesses follow UNHCR principles and Fair Trade standards. Fair Trade principles ensure that workers receive adequate compensation while working in a safe environment. MADE51 embodies the spirit of the UNHCR’s Global Compact on Refugees.

A lot goes into the success of the MADE51 collection. MADE51 receives help from strategic partners in product design, integrated technology, branding and marketing.

MADE51’s Impact

Other than providing a way for refugees to make a living, the initiative presents an opportunity to show solidarity with refugees. MADE51 “demonstrates the talents that refugees possess and how if given the opportunity, they can become positive contributors to societies and economies.”

MADE51 gives refugees the chance to honor and preserve their heritage and culture through art. Often the only things refugees can take with them when displaced are intangible skills, craftsmanship, knowledge and traditions. The collection shares these skills with the world while allowing refugees to “regain economic independence.” MADE51 is also a way of telling the human story of refugees rebuilding their lives from scratch.

How to Help

As a global collaborative initiative, MADE51 relies on the help of strategic partnerships. It is currently seeking partners in several areas such as retail branding, design and logistics. Individuals can also play a role in uplifting and empowering refugees by supporting the collection. For example, individuals can promote the collection on social media platforms, utilize word-of-mouth marketing and purchase items from the collection. The collection is diverse, containing protective face masks, towels, aprons, laptop sleeves, key chains, travel bags and more.

According to the UNHCR, at the close of 2020, “there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people in the world.” More than 25% of this population was made up of refugees. MADE51 presents an inspiring tale of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people using their creative skills to rebuild their lives while simultaneously sharing and preserving their culture.

Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Flickr

chic brandsArtisans living in impoverished communities often do not receive fair compensation for their crafts. This issue is especially prominent if their work is sold in a more economically developed country, due to the nature of the country’s economic power. However, four chic brands are offering local artisans more sustainable job opportunities that provide equitable wages.

4 Chic Brands Giving Opportunities to Local Artisans

  1. Zambeezi. Founded in 2018, Zambeezi is a Zambian company that produces handmade soaps, body balms and lip moisturizers made out of beeswax from bees managed by Zambian beekeepers. According to Zambeezi, farmers and workers in Africa receive minimal compensation for their work, despite their products selling for high prices in more economically developed countries. In order to prevent this continuous cycle, Zambeezi forms partnerships with “entrepreneurs, farmers and beekeepers in Zambia, Africa” to ensure that workers are able to earn a “fair and living wage.” Going beyond fair compensation, Zambeezi allocates a portion of its profits to support local community development projects, such as developing wells and constructing schools.
  2. Gift of Hope. Founded by the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Gift of Hope is an “ethical fashion initiative” looking to break the poverty cycle by creating jobs for more than 70 artisans from Haiti. With a mostly female workforce, the organization pays employees three times the minimum wage to economically empower them to rise out of poverty. The company also works to prevent children from becoming “orphaned by poverty” simply because of the financial struggles of a family. By crafting jewelry, purses, headbands, keychains and more, using recycled and repurposed fabrics and materials, women in Haiti are able to provide income for their families and financially support their children.
  3. Pura Vida. Pura Vida began with two struggling Costa Rican artisans crafting string bracelets and grappling to survive on their earnings from selling only a few bracelets per week. On a visit to Costa Rica, Californians Griffin Thall and Paul Goodman asked the artisans to make 400 bracelets for Thall and Goodman to take back to the United States. The bracelets sold out at a boutique within just a short period. This prompted the start of Pura Vida, a company that now sells millions of these bracelets annually. The bracelets are made by more than 800 previously impoverished artisans located in Costa Rica, China, India and El Salvador. The company provides its employees with a sustainable work environment and a steady income. Pura Vida partners with more than 200 charities worldwide and has donated approximately $3.8 million to charities chosen by consumers.
  4. Hiptipico. Hiptipico provides transparency, fair compensation and “non-factory working conditions” to women living in impoverished, indigenous communities in Guatemala. The company creates partnerships with artisans in Guatemala to craft items from its collection, including bandanas, dog collars, camera straps, laptop cases and handbags. Furthermore, Hiptipico allows artisans to price the items themselves. This ensures that workers receive fair earnings for every crafted piece of work. Additionally, the brand allows female artisans to select their own working hours. The flexibility allows women time for family responsibilities while providing an income. Guatemalan artisans also have the freedom to create their own designs and add a touch of personal flair to their crafts, ensuring products reflect the authenticity of Guatemalan culture.

Supporting Fairtrade

These four chic brands strive to end poverty by providing jobs, safe working conditions and fair wages to impoverished artisans. The brands also preserve the originality of the artisans’ cultures. By creating partnerships with artisans globally, the brands ensure that the artisan is rewarded fairly for their craftsmanship. The four companies provide an income to impoverished families while allowing the artisans time to care for their children. Overall, these brands are bringing the world one step closer to ending poverty.

Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

Slow Fashion In Colombia
Colombia is a South American country that ranks first place in Latin America for ethical practices and sustainable development. It supports international certificates such as ISO 14000, ISO 900 and BASC to ensure fair trade and environmental initiatives. In 2015, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, Colombia ranked second in social responsibility for its support of national artisans, indigenous communities and single mothers. Learn how slow fashion in Colombia helps artisans escape cycles of poverty.

Slow Fashion

Colombia benefits from slow fashion because it stimulates the economy and improves artisanal living conditions. However, these highly skilled workers are losing their jobs because of automated garment manufacturing fueled by fashion brands making cheap clothing at a rapid pace and at low costs. Consumers that support slow fashion in Colombia help empower artisans and fight extreme poverty. They also help preserve artisans’ cultural skills by supporting their handcrafted goods and allow them to work close to home.

Partnerships are vital in elevating slow fashion in Colombia. According to Aspen Institute, the second-largest source of employment in African and Latin American countries is from artisanal craft. However, artisans remain in poverty due to poor access to distribution channels and quality materials. Since fast fashion has forced artisans to seek different sources of employment, the loss of artisanal jobs risks that their cultural traditions be lost forever. This makes artisanal products reaching global markets and artisans receiving a fair wage critical for their livelihoods and for the preservation of their culture.

Growing Artisanal Sector

According to Artisanal Alliance, artisanal goods sold in international markets doubled between 2002 to 2012. Artisans are often women and informal producers that lack basic financial tools and market access to increase the production and sale of their goods. This is important because 65% of artisanal work happens in developing countries. These artisans could have better access to the global markets if they had the proper resources, tools and business partners needed to produce and sell artisanal goods. This would make it easier to sell goods to consumers interested in supporting Colombian artisanry and uplifting artisans.

Benefits of Slow Fashion

Slow fashion in Colombia empowers artisans, such as Leopoldina Jimenez. In 2017, she was recognized by Artesanías de Colombia with the Medal for Craftsmanship ‘Master of Masters’ for 48 years of work toward the elaboration of woolen fabrics. Her work has helped elevate artisanal craft while inspiring women to continue the legacy of their culture. She also finds it important to use her platform to provide greater visibility to rural artisanal communities in Colombia. Sopó Mayor’s Office fair highlighted her previous work and recognized her work with Exportesano with a Quality Seal.

Slow fashion in Colombia has also prospered through collaborative efforts like the Agua Bendita’s AB Hearts Initiative. This collective of 700 women artisans is empowered to take old Colombian beading and embroidery techniques and turn them into a business. Lead artisans distribute the work among the women and create prints that reference Colombia’s history and culture. This allows them to work at home and specialize in either beadwork and embroidery to complete requested design work.

Moving forward, it is essential that slow fashion in Colombia and around the world receives support and continues to grow. Slow fashion enables better livelihoods for artisans and is one way consumers can help alleviate global poverty.

– Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr