I wake up every morning and look forward to walking to my office. Even better, I look forward to trips to India to meet with the artisan groups I work with. In February I went on a three week adventure to Delhi, Rajasthan and Bihar.
I am going to tell my story in three segments so I can give enough time to each group I work with. I am going to take you first to the Ranthambore, the home of a tiger preserve in Rajasthan. Aside from the national park and many overpriced hotels, there isn’t much more for tourists to find here.
For the local peoples of the area, entertainment is the least of their concerns. Reality is much more grim. In the 1980’s when India decided to put the land into conservation, many of the people were forced into the more arid outskirts of the park. With little access to food and water, they struggled to get by. Families were split up as parents had to go into cities to find jobs or become migrant workers.
The artisan group was set up in 1989 to offer another income to women in the region. They trained the artisans in crafts that had been part of Indian culture for generations—block-printing, embroidery and patchwork in particular.
India has been renowned for its block-printing for centuries. The artisans carve designs into wooden blocks, immerse them in paint and press them onto fabric in careful but rapid, free-hand form. They make a variety of table linens with their beautiful block-printed designs. Inspired by the surrounding tiger preserve, the artisans use playful animal and floral motifs. In the 22 years of its existence, the artisan group has made significant impact in the lives of its artisans. The working conditions are ideal—groups of women stitching in the shade of banana trees or on the center’s oversized porch. The feeling is uplifted and the women’s confidence has clearly increased since my previous visit in 2009.
This isn’t to say that it is all perfect. The area still faces poverty, the women are still part of an oppressive patriarchal society and until large scale corporate trade policies change, it is hard to know how much impact fair trade will have in the long run.
But I’m an optimist. I may not be able to save the world, but I know I can still have an impact. I see it when I go there. I feel so fortunate to be able to offer my customers an opportunity to connect with other cultures and to practice generosity. Impacting one community, one family, one artisan is a great place to start. It all adds up. It matters.
Stay tuned to hear about our other amazing artisan groups and please share your thoughts and your feedback.
Melinda Haselton is the owner and founder of Dolma, a Burlington, VT based fair trade company. She works with artisan groups and schools in India with the hope of healing communities through fair trade and education. She is also a lead organizer for the Fair Trade Burlington Network. Find her on Twitter @DolmaFairTrade and Facebook.