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Liberating artisans internationally: Part I

Christina Chomut is a Southern California-based entertainment writer/colunmist who has one finger on the pulse of the music industry and another on fashion. She has had the pleasure of covering such icons as The Rolling Stones, Ani DiFra...

Mending Broken Heart

Stories come in by the dozen of displaced families lacking accessibility to safe and ethical employment opportunities, natural disasters threatening people's livelihoods and repressed rural communities without access the local and global marketplace to sell products of their trade. A few of the common denominators these people are facing -- broken communities, broken families and broken hearts.

Out of Bad…Comes Good

Often due to circumstances beyond their control, artisans around the world are suffering harsh working conditions, below-par wages, poor nutrition and hunger, little-to-no schooling options for their children and the emotional and physical toll of not feeling useful. By assisting these artisans with economic opportunities, the non-profit group Aid to Artisans (ATA) has changed the tide for over 100,000 artisans in more than 110 countries where their livelihoods, communities and craft traditions are at risk. Over the past 10 years, the efforts of ATA have leveraged nearly $230 million in retail sales. This income has empowered 125,000 artisans in 41 emerging regions of the world.

Mending the Broken

"The ATA methodology really works -- assessing artisan capabilities, developing products targeted at specific markets, then providing training in business, marketing and production skills, and finally linking them up to the market," says ATA President, David O'Connor. "The stories where ATA has transformed artisan livelihoods are innumerable and heartwarming."

Take Lorena Guzman from Huila, Columbia. She was forced to escape from guerrillas in the state of Caqueta, where she lived with her family for years. Leaving her home and all the family's belongings behind, Lorena had much difficulty finding work to support her family and encountered many challenges along the way. In 2008, the mother of two was connected with ATA through a partner organization, Family's In Action.

"(ATA) invited me to attend a meeting and from that day, my life changed," says Lorena.

"At the beginning, I thought this organization was going to be like the rest…that promises a lot of things, but never fulfills them. Fortunately, I was wrong. I could say that after a year of being part of the Aid to Artisans family, I am completely convinced that ATA really works. They fulfill what they promise."

The organization trained Lorena – along with other artisans in Huila – in product design, marketing and sales. Their workshop is located in Neiva, Huila and the women produce all different types of leather accessories, focusing on leather handbags in different shapes, colors and sizes, according to Lorena.

"For me this process was something new. I never imagined I could learn the handbag technique and that after one year I would become an expert," says Lorena. "(This experience) has strengthened me in many ways – first of all, I feel very secure of my self and my self esteem is high. I am very happy of where am standing today and of what the future has for me."

Photo Credit

Photo #1: Lauren Barkumel / Aid to Artisan -- Senegal Macandene Spinning.
Photo # 2: Aid to Artisan -- Dastikar, an artisan group from India, designed and created the hand-embroidered turquoise and pink tiger tote bags with the help of aid to Artisan.

Next: Hope for Women

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