Shanan and I just returned from an absolutely life changing month traveling in Asia, meeting women artisans who create beautiful, handmade products for Buy The Change. We also spent time with many of the amazing, caring people who work for cooperatives and non-profits (NGOs) helping women get their products to us and to you. We had hoped to be blogging while we were on the road but unfortunately discovered we could not access our contact lists on the mobile devices we had with us. Many of you were following along via Facebook and Instagram. We sooo loved reading your comments and words of encouragement. We will be writing about our experiences for weeks to come and will try to find ways to convey to you how important your purchases are for the women we met in India, Thailand and Cambodia. Let's start with this:
1. There Is No Limit To The Strength of The Human Spirit... We visited families in rural areas and women in the slums in Kolkata, India. We traveled to the Thailand/Myanmar border to visit women of the Karen Tribe living in the MaeLa refugee camp. We met numerous, home based, women producers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia including a polio survivor, a land mine victim, a woman living with HIV/AIDS and a woman blinded in an acid attack. They all welcomed us into their homes and workshops with such warmth and kindness. It was humbling each and every time. Clearly, they love their children and take pride in their homes and work. To say life is not easy would be a gross understatement, life for these women is hard, every single day.
2. The Little Things That Are Annoying You Are NOT Important... From central heating and cooling to washing machines and tumble dryers, refrigerators, electric appliances, hot running water, clean tap water on demand, indoor toilets, traffic laws, an unlimited food supply and private bedrooms, we are living with more ease and convenience than seems possible. In the Mullahati slum in Kolkata there are two water pipes for 3000 families. The water runs for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. If you want water, which is not safe to drink, take a bucket and get in line. None of the homes we visited had indoor plumbing. In the majority of homes the entire family lives and sleeps in the same room which contains one bed and no other furniture. Almost all of the sewn products we sell were made on sewing machines that are foot powered. We live like royalty and have mostly forgotten how easy we have it. What was it that got on your nerves today? What ruined your day because it caused you extra work or inconvenience? What in the heck do we do with all the time we gain by having automated everything?
3. Poverty Forces People to Make VERY Difficult Decisions... I was so ready to stand in judgment of anyone and everyone who participates in the trafficking of girls. As always, there is more to the story. Often traffickers visit villages with stories of jobs for girls in the city or next village. More often than not, those "jobs" are in brothels. Do the parents really believe the story or does extreme poverty and the idea of one less person to feed make them want to believe it? Even more horrific is the idea that the cash value of a girl is a potential survival plan for a family living in extreme poverty. Many times the trafficking of girls in Asia is a survival based, economic decision for a family. Consider this; if a family does not have the resources to house, feed and educate all of their children, the parents have to decide who will be fed and educated. If their son will stay with them and eventually bring his wife to help take care of them in old age, and their daughter will leave them to go live with the family of her husband after they pay a dowry for his family to take her, it makes sense to me that they would be more focused on their son? I don't like it but it helps me understand the scope of this issue on a deeper level. If there is enough money, girls are MUCH more likely to stay at home and go to school.
4. Handmade Really Means Handmade... Everything you buy from Buy The Change is handmade stitch by stitch, thread by thread. Watching the Karen women set up their weaving looms and women in India hand stitching and quilting sari blankets was a learning experience. I kept thinking "that takes so long". Yes, it takes a LONG time to weave a shawl one thread at a time or to create a piece of jewelry out of a bomb casing that was lying in a river bed for 30 years. Purchasing fair trade items costs a little more but we can all feel good in the idea that a woman was really paid for 3 days work for a piece that took 3 days to make.
5. We Each Have The Ability To Be A Force For Good In The World... It doesn't matter what it is you do to be a positive force but it is essential that you do something. A big piece of why we loved the idea of starting Buy The Change was that it gives everyone the opportunity to participate in changing lives without requiring a huge amount of time or money. When you purchase one of our products you are literally changing the life of a woman and her family. You are often contributing to keeping a girl safe. At every visit we were asked, in a very polite way, "Are you going to order more of my products?" Our answer was always the same "We are, and we are going to work very hard, every day, to tell people about you, your products and your amazing heart"
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my musings. If you like this post or feel inspired by it, please pass it on. Help us spread the word about the incredible women we met on this trip. I would love to hear from you in the comments section. I know you want photos! They are coming tomorrow, I promise! You can visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/buythechange to see posts from when we were traveling. Please give gifts that matter, to yourself and people you love, shop for our fairly traded, handmade by women products at www.buythechangeusa.org.