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Squirrel Hill shop helps provide fair-trade accoss the world

By Lori Pometo
Point Park News Service

Moses and Esther Kirimi provide life in Nairobi through hand carved works of art which are sold at a local store on Forbes Avenue.

Loreta Rafisura, of the Philippines helped to rejuvenate her village by turning natural assets into a source of income.

“I think sometimes we forget that families and people are the same everywhere,” said Jennifer Legler.

All three have not only benefited from working with Ten Thousand Villages but have been able to provide fundamental basics for their families and their hometowns.

“For many artisans a consistent income makes all the difference. With consistent income they are able to send their children to school, improve their homes and dream of a better future,” Advertising Coordinator, Juanita Fox said in an e-mail.

Volunteer turned store manager of the Squirrel Hill retail store, Legler, met the Kirimi’s and Rafisura when they came to Akron, Pennsylvania for Ten Thousand Villages annual workshop. The retail store in Squirrel Hill was cooked-up nearly 15 years ago by a local group who believed in the work and mission of Ten Thousand Villages.

Edna Ruth Byler started the non-profit organization in 1946 out of the trunk of her car. Today there are more than 390 retail outlets in the United States that provide incomes to artisan’s in villages in 38 countries around the world. Each store is full of handcrafted and original items made by artisans in many different regions including Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Moses and Esther’s first trip to the United States was this past September at Ten Thousand Villages annual workshop in Akron, Pennsylvania. They run Kaki Creations outside of Nairobi where the lions run wild.

“People [at the workshop] kept asking what was the difference here than there [Kenya] and Moses was talking about how open it was. Akron is near Lancaster so there are farms and open grass. At first I thought he was talking about the homes and he kept saying, ‘There’s no fence.’ Then a buyer intervened and said ‘There are no lions here.’ Moses said he had lions at his fence a few weeks ago at home. It was the funniest story he told. It shows the huge cultural divide from here and there,” said Legler. “He is an unbelievable carver. He likes to carve lions.”

Moses began Kaki Creations as a way to get people in the slums without education or training involved with art. He wanted art to be something that’s tangible in everyday life for these people.

A woman who really made an impression on Legler was Loreta Rafisura from the Philippines. The workshop in Akron was not her first time in the United States. Rafisura came to Chicago to pursue a nursing degree. Coming to the U.S. made the current executive director of Salay Handmade Paper realized just how poor she really was at home. Rafisura went back to the Philippines and wondered what she and her artisans could do when she thought of papermaking. They took a page from Japanese paper making and adapted it to the materials available, including dried flowers.

“She said they ruined a few cooking pots in the process, but they figured out how to do it,” said Legler. “We have wall hangings from them, cards and calendars this year. We have some really beautiful products. I have no idea how she got those teeny-tiny flowers pressed and glued down and put in place.”

According to the Salay Handmade Paper’s website, Rafisura started the artisan group in 1987 after overcoming a personal health scare, but she didn’t let that stop her. Her town was in dire need of food and turned to her and her husband, Dr. Rafisura for help.

According to Ten Thousand Villages website, artisans and Ten Thousand Villages agree on a fair price that covers the cost of labor and materials and enables artisans to earn fair compensation for their work. Artisans are given up to a 50 percent interest-free cash payment when an order is place then receive the rest of the pre-agreed price when the order is shipped.

“Once the products arrive in the United States, Ten Thousand Villages is responsible for marketing them,” said Fox. “Artisans’ wages are not affected by product markdowns or discounts because they have already received payment before the products arrive in our warehouse.”

Fair trade is more than just deciding on a fair price for a product, but to these artisans, serves as a general outline of how they feel they should be treated and dealt with.

“Artisan groups often remark that our commitment to long-term purchases is more important than the fair prices we pay. Long-term relationships give them a sustainable source of income that enables them to plan for the future-investing in technology and skills training in order to reach their full business potential,” said Fox.

However, the income that is earned from artisans all around the world is crucial for survival.

“It helps with food and one of the big challenges in a lot of these villages is that food takes up a much bigger percentage of their income and one of the things they focus on with artisans is ‘Are they earning enough to send their children to school?’” said Legler.

Education is vital to break the cycle of poverty in these villages. An artisan group called Noah’s Ark in India had the funds to buy uniforms for their children, according to Legler, but there weren’t any schools nearby because it’s such an isolated village so the town built a school atop the workshop space and hired a teacher.

There are several unique finds at Ten Thousand Villages in Squirrel Hill like gifts crafted from olive wood from the West Bank, ornate jewelry from most every corner of the world, paper products, scarves, picture frames and bowls made from recycled newspaper and much more.

“My favorite part [of this company] is knowing exactly what the connection is to the artist and seeing the difference we’re able to make [in their lives],” said Legler.

Graphic by Gina Zuccolotto

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