Bangladesh Artisans

sunita_shrestha_knitting_groupLaxmi Maharjan has “slippery hands.”

So does Edith Najjemba, and Loreta Rafisura, and many other women artisans with whom Ten Thousand Villages works. While this description may seem unlikely – and even offensive out of context – it applies perfectly to them all. Especially to Laxmi, an expert weaving instructor with the Association of Craft Producers (ACP) in Nepal.

The term “slippery hands” was used in a UNICEF Report in 2010 by Rania al Abdullah, Queen of Jordan and UNICEF’s Eminent Advocate for Children at the time. She writes about the advantages of educating girls in India who, as soon as they were taught to read and write, slipped their text books into the hands of their younger sisters and taught their illiterate mothers how to read.

Similarly, a woman transformed by Fair Trade has “slippery hands.” She too will share her skills with other women in her family and community, often taking on leadership roles so she can help organize women in various ways, or help them form a sustainable business.

This is exactly what Laxmi did.

From early adolescence, Laxmi – who comes from a traditional weaving community in Kirtipur, Nepal – worked as a weaver. The money she earned went directly into the pockets of her male relatives. Over time, however, her talent was recognized. She was hired as an instructor by ACP, and finally began earning a good income.

And what was her first “investment”? The education of her two daughters. Her skilled hands had become “slippery.”

Not only was her manual dexterity recognized by ACP, but Laxmi’s management skills were evident as well. She was encouraged to develop a working group initially with four women in her village, but she soon grew this number to 50.

Laxmi was empowered not only to ensure her daughters received a good education, but also to share her skills and good fortune with many women in her community who, in turn, have made sure their daughters are also educated.

Completing the circle, Laxmi’s second daughter, Sudha Maharjan, carried on the family weaving tradition while pursuing a master’s degree in sociology. Unlike many other highly educated women of her region, Sudha has chosen to stay in her community and work with ACP. This allows Laxmi to semi-retire, while educating and playing with her grandchildren. These children will have a choice never available to their grandmother: to pursue their education and a career, or to continue the family weaving tradition – or all three!

birds-and-blossoms-pillowACP’s work with women like Laxmi and Sudha is enabled through their association with Nepali Craft Trading, with which Ten Thousand Villages partners. Villages currently sells their Birds and Blossoms Pillow created from recycled cotton by a group of women from an even more traditional community in the rural Kathmandu Valley.

Prevented from working outside their homes, these women are able to earn a decent living wage with ACP through the intercession of an elder who made her home available as a workshop. Through the benefits of Fair Trade, and inspired by the example of Laxmi, the women behind the recycled scrap “blossoms” on the cushion cover can entertain the hope that they too will launch their daughters beyond the confines of their current reality into brighter futures.

Fair Trade values, coupled with the “slippery hands” of dedicated women, are creating opportunities in Nepal and around the world.

In a world where the future of most investments is unpredictable, you can rest assured that investing in education and empowerment for women will always pay off.


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