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On one of my recent trips to Kenya, I met Everlyn, the chairperson of PowerWomen, a cooperative that supports women who are HIV positive. PowerWomen markets handmade products made by the women they serve. The primary mission of the organisation is to strike down the stigma that’s associated with women who are HIV positive. ”When a woman is abandoned by her husband, and the community as a whole, we are there for her. We raise awareness, and support single mothers and generate an income through the products we make”. As we talked, I noticed, hanging behind Everlyn, a sign from PowerWomen’s last workshop which read ‘Sita Kymye’ which means ‘I won’t keep quiet’. I knew from that moment that Everlyn was not just going to be a friend and a partner, but also a teacher and a source of inspiration and I too decided that I will not keep quiet.

PowerWomen’s second mission is to be economically independent through the sales of the products. I thought about all the obligations a mother might have and I asked Everlyn how the mothers were paying the school fees which are quite high. “We deny ourselves”, was Everlyn’s reply. My facial expression was undeniable … I needed to know more. ”Kids come first. When the time comes to divide the money, those of us with kids going to high school are the priority. Ruth’s kids are my kids. This is the generation that is our future”. I wept.

sandra n dalai lamaIt was a very special moment and an amazing privilege. I was attending a national youth event where I got to meet the Dalai Lama, and it speaks volume to his nature that, despite the hectic surroundings, our encounter brought me such peace. The Dalai Lama has inspired millions of people around the world through his teachings, wisdom and righteous life promoting peace, compassion and solidarity.

When the Dalai Lama was asked about the greatest issue of our time, he didn’t speak about wars, he didn’t refer to terrorism, he mentioned nothing on climate change. Rather he lamented a new generation of passive bystanders. In that moment, he put his finger on the root of all issues: a passive world too preoccupied with the world around it, but that it doesn’t care enough to change it.

Many of us have good intentions and want to make a difference in the world around us. The problem is we don’t know where to start, or what to do. I say: do something and start somewhere! Small acts of kindness, a word of encouragement, smiling at a stranger, bringing hope to someone; it all adds up to make for a better world, the very world we live in.

power womenPowerWomen is a grassroots organization based in Kebira, one of Kenya’s largest urban slums. PowerWomen’s purpose is to educate, empower and employ women who are HIV positive ensuring they are economically sustainable while raising awareness around the social stigma associated with HIV. PowerWomen’s artisans work together to reach out to HIV positive women living urban poor and rural communities. They organize workshops to raise awareness on the issue and to replicate their income generating model. The income generated from their work helps fund their community organization, artisans salaries and an emergency fund in case of fatal illness or deaths.

One of the main challenges that face women who are HIV positive is becoming an ‘outcast’ from society. The work of PowerWomen helps ensure women are integrated in the community and that they can be self-sufficient. They have now been able to send their kids to schools and fulfill their hopes and dreams of being active members of society.

SASA Designs deaf 1 is a jewelry line handcrafted by Deaf artisans in a workshop just outside Nairobi, Kenya. Using a mix of local materials and limited imported components, our team of artisans is trained to create fashion-forward designs with a hint of the unique African aesthetic. Most of the Deaf women we work with have never had a formal job beyond cleaning people’s houses. They have spent their lives being told they are worthless and forced to depend on the charity of family and the community at large. Working with Sasa Designs offers them sustainable, fair wages alongside skills training and exposure to business principles and design. Upon joining the team they learn they are gifted, skilled and have the potential to support themselves and their children. They take great pride in each piece of jewelry they create, and are very grateful for every person who wears their creations!

 

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Mille Collines 2Millecollines believes in Africa and wants the quality of its creations to reflect all its strength and sensibility. Constantly seeking attention to detail with handmade finishings, the collections are timeless.

MC dresses a woman that is not afraid of a world that is changing. On the contrary, she believes that with diversity we achieve a new and richer expression of wealth. She values a unique and high quality product. Every piece is handmade. MC woman feels a big connection with Africa. Maybe because she is African and this brand talk about her land, because she lives in Africa and this is now her home or because she is far and feels a deep nostalgia.

In a world that is globalizing faster every day, brands must represent the historical change we are being a part of. There is a fast growing demand of a product that blends the worlds in which we are today living.

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artisan ocean sole-1Ours is a story of logic and magic; the logic of recycling our waste using the magic of imagination, creativity and finally, plenty of passion!

We collect discarded flipflops that were previously blighting waterways and coastlines in Kenya. Thousands & thousands of these castoff flipflops wash up on the world’s shorelines creating an environmental disaster for the marine ecosystem. Not only spoiling the natural beauty of our beaches and oceans, the plastic waste isswallowed by animals, slowly and painfully suffocating them; a tragic end that can be avoided.

The magic happens through craftsmanship, as talented artisans from local communities earn an income transforming the collected waste into wonderful flipflop creations. We believe in providing and promoting sustainable trade solutions for Kenyans.

The result is a bouquet of colourful, well designed sculptures, household items, fashion accessories, gifts, interaactives, stationery and bespoke pieces that carry our message of to protect our oceans and create trade notaid, across the world.

 

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Harbeya at APE

Harbeya at APE

Harbeya stumbled upon the Association for the Protection of the Environment (APE) about 25 years ago and her life changed forever ever since. Here is what she shared with me when I asked her about the impact APE had on her life.

“I came here when we moved from Upper Egypt 25 years ago. I was ‘blind’ until I found APE. I had 2 little kids that I thought were ‘handicapped’. I was told from their childhood that they will not be able to go to school and on this basis, I never sent them to one. At APE, I enrolled in the literacy classes offered. I took the weaving training and I started working and earning my own money. APE at this point had started an alternative school for the kids and they took mine in. My kids had a minor speech issue which didn’t hinder their learning, contrary to what I was told. I couldn’t believe myself when I witnessed my kids graduating high school and going into university. It was beyond anything I could dream of. I remember the first day my son got dressed to go to college. He knew me too well and warned me not to follow him. I promised not to embarrass him but couldn’t help but follow him. Yes, I did follow him in. I wanted to see him climb those stairs to his first lecture so badly. When he took his seat, I … took a deep breath.” Harbeya smiled, cried and sighed as she told me the story and finished it off by saying: “that’s what APE is to me and to my children.”

Moustafa in one of the school's classrooms

Moustafa in one of the school’s classrooms

Moustafa, Harbeya’s son has graduated from University and now heads up the very school that once gave him a chance at a new life. It was his turn to give it back to the coming generation.

APE 1A.P.E. works with the informal garbage collectors of Cairo known as the Zabbaleen (literally meaning garbage collectors in Arabic). Their aim is to help this traditionally marginalized group find innovate ways to support the environment and help themselves. Their 25 years of experience working with the Zabbaleen is proof that environmental, social and economic development can go hand in hand.

Their income generating programs have helped generations of women improve their circumstances. A.P.E’s programs include waste management training, hygiene awareness, literacy classes and health programs that serve the whole community. A recent documentary – Garbage Dreams – about this community and the challenges it faces, has won several awards including the Al Gore Reel Current Award in 2009.

“At A.P.E., our focus is on helping the Zabbaleen to find income generating activities that are also environmentally sound. The Rug Weaving, Patchwork, and Paper Recycling projects provide young women with skills, an income, and most importantly, a sense of empowerment and improved self-esteem. The women produce beautiful, high quality work.”

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Ayadi was founded to preserve traditional craftsmanship and cultural heritage while providing a source of income and dignity for young, marginalized artisans in Cairo, Egypt. The name ‘Ayadi’ in Arabic means “many hands” which embodies the message and spirit of the organization. Ayadi works closely with the artisans on product development and in identifying and creating markets for the uniquely beautiful handmade items they create. The sale of their intricately embroidered cushions, leather bags and travel pouches, gives these youth the ability to support their families and provides them with hope for a better future, while reviving traditional art and patterns.

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scan0010Markaz’s mission is to promote the revival of traditional craftsmanship in Egypt while creating a positive and lasting impact in the lives of the artisans. Markaz partners with artisans from 14 different governorates in Egypt. These artisans usually come from marginalized areas in urban and rural Egypt and depend on the sale of their products for their livelihoods. Markaz ensures that skills are passed on from one generation to the other thus creating a sustainable livelihood for many generations to come.