Fair Trade Artisan Tour - WFTD 2012
Fair Trade Tour with Lata Kachhawaha
Sponsored by Handmade Expressions and Fair Trade Towns
13 meetings, 8 days, 9 cities/towns
6 Fair Trade Towns
1 Fair Trade University
6 HME retail partner stores
Handmade Expressions office
Fair Trade USA office
For World Fair Trade Day 2012, Handmade Expressions sponsored a fair trade tour in partnership with Fair Trade Towns that brought Lata Kachhawaha from India to the United States to meet with fair trade supporters. The tour began in Austin, TX at Handmade Expressions’ office, went up the coast of California from San Deigo, to LA County, to the Bay Area, and culminated in Seattle where Lata ji attended and presented at the Fair Trade Federation’s annual conference. We participated in 13 meetings and events in just over a week of travel where we met and shared meals with Fair Trade Towns campaigns and were hosted at some fun events by retailers. Lata ji enjoyed getting to meet with so many fair trade advocates, learning about US culture, and seeing some beautiful sights along the way!
Lata ji is a passionate social activist who has devoted her life to improving the conditions of impoverished artisans, particularly women. She helped to found the Society to Uplift Rural Economy (SURE), an NGO that supports over 600 artisans in the rural desert region of Barmer in Rajasthan, India, to sell products in a fairer market. In each of the meetings and events, Lata ji shared her personal story and described in detail SURE’s programs that together promote a holistic strategy for rural development. Having worked in this field for over 25 years, her knowledge and the experiences she shared were incredibly inspiring!
The dedication and commitment required for this work was shown through Lata ji’s description of how when she first began development work in Barmer in 1987, she had to ride a camel over sand dunes for 30+ kms to reach remote villages, only to be met with skepticism and distrust of an outsider. “Change is a slow process,” Lata ji explained. She had to work for 3 years just to build relationships and rapport with these communities before beginning any livelihood or development work. There was deep pride in her voice as she discussed the changes she has seen in communities over the course of her work, particularly when with women’s confidence.
Women’s empowerment has been one of Lata ji’s primary focuses in her work. SURE works first on livelihood generation for women through craftwork by teaching them basics of entrepreneurship, enhancing quality, and offering some design workshops. “Making money is a platform for women to have a voice, to work for their own empowerment,” Lata ji shared with audiences across the US. She elaborated with personal stories of women who begun to participate in local political processes and girls who have completed primary education at SURE’s residential school and continued on to pursue higher education. These stories of impact really helped to build motivation among fair trade advocates, as everyone was captivated by Lata ji’s stories and engaged in some thoughtful discussions.
SURE also focuses on a variety of social development projects, including health care provision, education for girl children, and natural resource management. Because Barmer is a very dry desert region with water scarcity problems, women have to spend their whole day walking 15 kms round trip to fetch water for their families. Women in the villages expressed the need to store water so they can spend their time more productively. SURE has a “self-help group” program that provides women with microloans, which have been used to install water storage tanks in their homes. This allows women to spend less time fetching water and more time working, so they can easily pay back their loans and earn extra income without putting in extra work.
Another project that has helped women with work time was to install solar lanterns in villages that have no access to electricity. 2011, Lata ji led a project sponsored by Handmade Expressions and Trade As One to install solar lanterns in 100 rural huts. This project was initiated by women’s request for alternative lighting sources since their only option has been kerosene lanterns which are dangerous and release toxic fumes. The installation of these solar lanterns now allows women to work and children to study in the night and leads to a better and more fulfilling livelihood.
On the tour, there were some recurring themes and questions that came out during discussions and presentations. People were interested in learning Lata ji’s personal motivation in getting involved in this type of work. She answered that it came from an internal passion. She recognizes the privilege she had as a woman who was able to get a higher education in a large city and wanted to give back to and provide support for her community so other women and girls can have the same opportunities. “Why would I not do this work?” she questioned back to audiences. Attendees also were interested in SURE’s vision for the future. “We do this work so there is hope for the next generation,” Lata ji explained. She wants to see all girls being educated and for the traditional craftwork to continue in a way that provides a decent livelihood for women and their families.
Overall, this tour helped us to foster a connection between the two ends of the fair trade system – an artisan lead with advocates and consumers in the US. As an importer and wholesaler of artisanal products, Handmade Expressions is in a unique position to really reach out in both directions. We were able to strengthen relationships with some of our retail partners and gain some insight from interactions with consumers. Everyone was appreciative of this unique opportunity to have that face-to-face dialogue and said it helped to motivate them in their work for fair trade, which can easily sometimes feel disconnected. Lata ji had a great time in the US and also appreciated this opportunity to travel and learn about the market. She said she couldn’t wait to share her stories and pictures with the women back home!