Thursday, February 21, 2008
Can Ribo Mon Matino (or, why I am here in the first place)
If you have purchased any paper bead necklaces from me during this first year, or you have entered my apartment and seen the piles and piles of colorful jewelry spread out on my living room floor (and even if you have not done either of these things), I would like to personally introduce you to the incredible women behind the beautiful and unique beads.
These women, from Awer IDP camp, create the jewelry that many of you now wear. Their transformation over this past year has been great, and much of it is thanks to you.
Between the time I met them, and now, just one year later, they have moved from making necklaces that I bought but could not sell or really wear myself, to jewelry that moves through trendy boutiques and gets sold when someone asks a wearer "That is so beautiful and different! Where did you get it???"
Part way through the year the women became serious about their work. They decided that they wanted more training; they decided to build a workspace for beading together, they decided to name themselves and thus become a true cooperative. Thus Can Ribo Mon Matin, or "Women United from Their Problems" was born.
And it is true that their problems are significant. Most of these women care for between 5-10 children and have no income to speak of. Nearly all of them began their childbearing when they were children themselves. They live in a congested and unsanitary camp for the internally displaced and cannot farm their own land. Their husbands, if alive, do not have work. They largely depend on the World Food Program and other aid. Many have lost family to AIDS, or are HIV positive themselves.
For the better part of this year, my friend and partner in all this, Tiffany, has continued to visit and advise the women of Can Ribo Mon Matino at Awer. I send her money, she purchases the necklaces, she sends them back to me (and also to her family in Texas). I sell the necklaces to you and send the money back to Tiffany. The cycle continues….
Your purchases have allowed them to become businesswomen. Without your support there is no way that their quality of life, and the quality of their work would have improved so dramatically, that they would have a workspace, that they would now be able to build a small, small business. Medicines are now more easily purchased, and small bellies filled. It is still a struggle, but things seem more hopeful for these women and their families.
One thing that has moved me greatly is something a bit less obvious. The women of Can Ribo Mon Matino have moved from being simple bead-makers to being creative artists. Their work has developed in color and style. They are taking chances, using their own ideas of beauty, pushing the envelope just a bit. This may not seem particularly incredible or note-worthy. The women are after all in a creative profession now, so to speak. However this move into unique and inspired creations is, in fact, monumental.
Camp living is about survival. It is day-to-day, hour-to-hour, what-am-I-going-to-eat-and-feed-my-children-tonight-living. It is praying that a fire doesn't spark and fly across a sea of thatched huts, charring your few possessions: a water jug, a pot, a sleeping mat, a change of clothes. It is hoping against hope that your newborn and maybe even your older child survive the year. In this kind of living, there is little room for imagination.
So together with the smiles on their faces and the obvious improvement in their living, the originality of these women and the spirit they have begun to infuse into their work moves me. It makes me certain that something is going right, and that it is worth finding them a more sustainable venue for their craft. This is especially important now that Tiffany is leaving Uganda in June. And that is why I am here in Gulu this time around. I knew you were wondering.
If you are interested in selling these unique and beautiful paper bead necklaces to your friends and family, please just let me know. I will be bringing home many, many, many. For more pictures of the women and the beads click here, into Tiffany's flickr account. It is definitely worth a look-see.
Big hugs to you all, and thank you for sending me so much comment/e-mail love!