Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thanks for coming along...

What a heck of year it is has been.  The terrorist attack in Norway that deeply affected me personally, the world economy that affects each and every one of us.  In Armenia, domestic violence, environmental issues, deaths of young Armenians in the military and the usual discussions of corruption, nepotism and oligarchs and a visit by the Norwegian foreign minister.  Hectic.  In the middle of all this, I have kept myself positively busy with Homeland Handicrafts.  It has been my savior, my life jacket in choppy seas.

Hours and hours in the car, thoughts to myself, getting out to the far reaches of Armenia.  Coffee, lots of coffee, and those that know me best know that I love a chicken kebab in lavash, with ketchup and onion.

It is those individuals that I meet in those villages that keep me going.  Good, warm, humorous, decent, hardworking people who only need a chance to show what they are capable of.  Thanks to Mariam, Hasmik, Gohar, Robert, Nver, Ashot, Nune, Anahit, Seda, Tamara, David, Lilit, Knarik, Satik and all the others that I have been introduced to during the year.

So, let's see where 2012 takes us.  Vartenis with applique work, Gyumri with beadwork, and maybe Talin with I'm not sure what.

Thanks for coming along, either as a producer, a customer, a donor, a cheerleader.

You all make it possible!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This night...

...a lot of kids like these, both in Armenia and abroad ...

will receive a bunch of things like these... 

 which will provide income for women like these.. they can provide a better life for kids like this one..

That is what Homeland Handicrafts is all about.

May peace be with your every step

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Fair Wage for a Fair Day's Work

It is sometimes astonishing what a difference a couple of days can make.  

Just yesterday it struck me that perhaps it was time to re-launch a series of exquisitely embroidered cushion covers from the villages of Vayots Dzor.  We worked intensively last year on the development of these items after being told a story that borders on modern day slavery.  The women in these villages are known for the high quality of their embroidery, their accuracy.  And, the women have only a garden and perhaps a beehive from which to create income.  That is why Turks in the business of high priced cushion covers and wall hangings regularly send their Armenian representatives to these particular villages and ask the women to fully embroider large pieces of cloth- because the quality is good, and the women have no other choice.  For a piece of cloth the size of a table runner taking two months to embroider, they receive about USD 50, much less than minimum wage in Armenia.  The finished pieces are shipped to Turkey and sold at exorbitant prices.

This is not about the Armenian-Turkish relationship.  This is about paying a woman a fair wage for a fair day's work.

So we set about asking the women to embroider a much smaller swatch of cloth, and framing it in a nice piece of fabric to match a rich looking cushion cover.  They made a few of them, but the market didn't want them for some reason.  Expectations were not fulfilled, so we put these products to the side for a year.

Then yesterday I brought them out again.  And tonight I have orders for nine cushions from warm-hearted people who know a quality product when they see one.

So tomorrow morning I start breathing new life into those products-because these women deserve it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Bags Are Packed...

The bags are packed, two fairs ahead of us this weekend.  The Dzmer Pap runs tomorrow, and the International Womens Club annual charity bazaar is on Sunday.  Christmas is upon us!  In the boxes in bags at my feet as I write this are lots of goodies.  Many of the animals from Goris, the santas and snowmen from Kapan and the coasters from Chinchin have already been spoken for, so it promises well.  All of the remaining plum jam from Berd has been put to the side for a woman who in panic wrote to me saying she couldn't come to the fairs, so please please lock it away at home for her!  Done.

To think that a year ago we had just started.  Homeland Handicrafts was in its infancy(and in many ways, still is!).  Still, when I think of the fact that we went to a handful of employed women at this time last year to perhaps up towards 60 today, we have to be happy with the results.  The teddy bears from Berd are almost about to be IPOed(just kidding, but big plans are sailing up!), and the crocheted animals from Goris are in more demand than they can produce.  Chinchin, a village almost nobody every heard of just a couple months back is now on the map- the home of three wonderful things:  Fab handcrafted coasters with a gaggle of determined women behind them, an incredible view out over the mountain tops from the edge of town, and a young determined woman by the name of Mariam Yesayan, whom without we never would have set foot in Chinchin.  The House of Hope and Faith in Kapan is churning out those cute little santas and snowmen this year, too, and has added a dragon, next year's Chinese symbol.

Disappointments we have had.  Meghri has proven a tougher job to get things on their feet than we thought.  Sevan and Noyemberian the same.  Though some of the issues of why it didn't take off are based on the people involved, the biggest issue has been finding the right product that the market wants. The will to work is in all of these places.

The commercial contacts are starting to come.  A major telephone company has asked us to locate producers for items they will use in marketing- by the thousands.  An exporter has asked me to put them in contact with talented crocheters and knitters for her clothing collection, so the ladies of Noyemberian and Chinchin have a positive challenge in front of them for next year.  Diasporan visitors to Armenia have asked me to take them to our producer groups to see if they can have their product ideas developed her, in Armenia.  Good friends in Philadelphia, Boston and LA are clamoring for more products.  The ball is starting to roll, and roll quickly.

The goal for Homeland Handicrafts still stands:  500 jobs in 5 years.  We are 18 months in, and have 60 of those created. We can make it.  Berd will increase dramatically in the next months, it seems, and Kapan might as well.  Chinchin should develop nicely, too.

And more and more villages and towns want us to come have a look-  Vartenis up by Lake Sevan, Gyumri, and a group of Armenian-Iraqi refugees near Yerevan, just to name a few.  There is no lack of women wanting to work.  We just need to keep plugging away at getting the word out.

The bags are packed, let's go create some jobs!