On December 9th, GIVEGIVE officially launched with a trunk show at UForge Gallery in Jamaica Plain. What a day! Tanja and I felt incredibly blessed that so many people showed up with hugs and kind words… and their hard-earned dollars to support us on a busy Sunday during the peak holiday season. We have never felt so loved, or so fortunate.
Here are a few of our favorite photos, taken by our good friend Sooz at Hootenanny Studio.
This little window of time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve always provides an opportunity to look back and think forward.
Two years ago I was curled up with this same blanket on this same couch. I was very sick and very sad. And, very convinced that life as I knew it would never be the same again. Having just returned from South Asia, my body was revolting against something foreign and my emotions were still trying to process what I’d observed in the previous four months researching human trafficking in the developing world—the issue and solutions. I had no idea what lay ahead of me.
2011 turned out to be a year of recovery and rebuilding. It was long and difficult, particularly the emotional aspect. I think I’m still a pretty changed person. I learned that healing is sometimes slow and patience is necessary. I learned that we really need each other, especially in times of crisis. I learned that we never, ever know what lies around the bend. And, that there is purpose, always purpose in pain. I think that’s called redemption and sometimes you can’t see it until you look backwards.
Towards the end of 2011, I was able to look back and see steady uphill healing. I was able to say, yes, things are getting better! And, my friend Annalisa and I began having very intentional conversations about a potential business idea. My heart stirred again and recognized feelings like hope and excitement.
In May 2012, Annalisa and I were on a plane to Nepal. This was happening. We were starting a business!
I can’t describe what I felt when we touched down in Kathmandu. There was this great sense of a journey coming full-circle to begin another journey. God knew I needed that. I could never have imagined that I would be returning to Nepal to start a business with a friend of mine. Now, it’s the end of December, and we’ve launched GIVEGIVE | MULXIPLY with great feedback and hosts of ideas for growth and continued partnerships with organizations such asAssociated Craft Producers of Nepal. And that too is redemption.
It is hard to comprehend why hard things happen. Working in the developing world is a constant reminder of the tremendous need for each of us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the face of suffering and injustice, which is rampant and permissible in places like Nepal, particularly involving women and children. My friend and now, business partner Annalisa, is part of my redemption story in this crazy 2+ year journey. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the women at ACP in Nepal in preventing poverty. We are part of each other’s redemption story. And you are part of ours. All of your support as we launched GIVEGIVE is part of this bigger story. It’s beautiful isn’t it?
I can see that now—looking back. And so it’s with total confidence that I can face 2013 and say, “The best is yet to come!”
Happy New Year.
Wandering through the markets in Kathmandu, you can’t help but notice there’s something going on with felt in Nepal. Shoes, hats, bags, toys, you name it. Why? Well, come to find out:
“Felt is the oldest man-made textile known, predating knit and woven cloth; in fact, archaeologists have found fragments of felt in Asia dating back to the Bronze Age. It is made by wetting layers of wool with soap and water and agitating the fibers so that they form a dense fabric. This can then be stretched into all sorts of items, including shoes, socks, bags, coats, and even shelters. Today, the art of felting is mainly found in the “Felt Belt,” which runs through Central Asia, and is a particular specialty of Nepal.” (Global Good Partners)
When we first started talking about products and countries, I shared this anecdote with Annalisa and it stuck in her creative brain. Soon she was buying yards of felt, shopping for leather and beautiful hardware, sewing, re-sewing, etc. Fast forward a couple months—voilá, we had 3 prototypes designed and 2 tickets to Nepal.
It wasn’t until we were visiting our partners, Associated Craft Producers of Nepal that we really understood the process of making felt.
So here we go:
You start with wool: sheep, yak, alpaca. Years before Nepal became a sought-after destination for mountaineers, it was composed primarily of nomads, shepherds and farmers. In the north as the elevation increases dramatically towards the Himalayas, it gets cold. Before there were fancy North Face jackets and tents, alas, there was wool from your own animals. And that’s how it started. Now, most of the wool used for modern-day felting is imported from New Zealand. As felting has become a profitable business (not just a utilized by-product), buying wool versus shearing your own livestock has become a necessary step.
Raw wool is first dyed to create uniform color consistency. While many colors can be created, it is the actual felting process that “makes” the color. For instance, we wanted a dark heather grey, so 3 different color wools were mixed in the felting process to create our custom grey. The wool is boiled with the dye in giant vats. Because it is so fibrous, it takes to the dye quickly. Once it reaches the desired saturation, it is removed, rinsed and placed in the sun to dry.
The wool is then aerated to separate and straighten the fibers so that when it is felted it binds together better. Once it is separated, it is then carded to get out any dirt or obvious flaws. At ACP they have a machine that helps with this since they are often making a lot of felt in one color for one product.
Once that is complete, the felting may begin. Generally speaking, this is where the magic happens. Felting occurs when water and soap is mixed with the wool, then agitated so the fibers are compressed and bound to one another. In the image below, an artisan has completed that process and is tightly rolling the felt to flatten it in to one large surface.
Then, it will be rinsed to remove excess soap and hung out to dry in the sun, where it will harden in to a smooth yet pliable textile.
Once it is dry, the felt is then ready to be cut and used to make any product designed.
Understanding why women are in desperate need for opportunity in the developing world is the first step. It is precisely what motivated us to start this business and seek out a partnership with a group of artisans in Nepal. We were not looking to make cheap products with factory labor, nor re-invent the wheel, instead, we sought to find a group who understood the plight of its own citizens, were actively striding towards lifting women out of poverty and saw creativity as a viable vehicle for change. We didn’t know if we would find such a group, but with some research tucked in to our back pockets and heads full of blue sky, off we went to find one such group.
And find them we did…
Down dusty, bumpy roads over sewage infested river-beds our taxi driver miraculously delivered us (wide-eyed) to the doors of Associated Craft Producers of Nepal, one of the groups we found while researching options. Stepping through the door, the first thing we saw was a large “World Fair Trade Association” logo on the wall. Warmly greeted by Srishti Bajracharya, we were then introduced to the current Executive Director, Meera Bhattarai who has nurtured the growth of ACP for over ten years. Both of these women were full of of energy and ideas as they shared the history and vision of the organization.
Founded in 1984 with just 38 producers, ACP now employs over 1,200 artisans, of which 90% are female. ACP recognizes the need for female employment in both rural and urban settings, providing opportunity for both. A country rich in artistic heritage, the producers at ACP are constantly looking to blend old techniques with modern applications, including textiles, leather-goods, wood-craft, ceramics and jewelry.
Situated at the foot of the Himalayas, ACP also recognizes the exquisite beauty of their country and as stated on their website, “takes careful and deliberate steps to preserve our environment”. On our initial tour, we noticed the progressive approaches taken to eliminate any harmful by-products from their manufacturing processes, such as a waste water treatment plant and rainwater harvesting system, using water-based pigments for printing, and harnessing the steam released during the cooling of the boilers used for dyeing to then heat water for felting. It was a fascinating experience, learning about processes that you never know about from a consumer’s perspective. And to see this happening in a non-factory setting in the developing world!
As we continued our tour we observed a strong spirit of investment and collaboration between the artisans, the majority of which were women busily working with their hands, but not too busy to stop and chat with one another, or proudly show us their work. And it’s no wonder. Bhattarai explained to us that each artisan in addition to a fair wage, is set up with a interest bearing retirement fund, a monthly stipend for employees who keep their children in school for 4 consecutive years, a medical allowance, and a Producer’s Alliance which protects and encourages knowledge of employee rights. Most of these benefits are not the norm in the developing world and certainly not a right.
After spending several days at ACP, we were fully confident that they would be a more than capable partner. It was a joy to spend time as their guests, their co-conspirators in this life-changing work. Two weeks later we left Nepal with much lighter bags having left hundreds of pieces of hardware and labels safely in the hands of ACP. In turn we had 3 beautiful samples and boat loads of anticipation for the months ahead until 3 giant boxes showed up with 300 real-live products ready to get in to your hands.
And that’s the story of our partnership—what we hope to be just the beginning of a really good thing.
Why Nepal? That’s a great question.
There are approximately 28 million people living in Nepal.
Half of the population live below the poverty line,
earning less that $1.25 per day.
Employment rates hover around 50%.
Only half of its citizens can read: only 35% of the literate are women.
Most of Nepal lives in the country or mountain regions. They are historically a “village” society, heavily dependent on agriculture, which provides sustenance and perhaps a small income to their families. Most Nepalis live in remote and hard-to-reach regions, where it can take two or three days on foot via mountain paths just to reach public transport. There is very little developed infrastructure outside of Nepal’s few big cities.
Only 17% of the Nepalese population live in urban centers, a statistic which increases yearly due to people seeking opportunities outside their village, particularly the younger generations. This rapid urbanization results in high levels of poverty because cities like Kathmandu cannot economically accommodate for the influx. Unemployment coupled with global inflation continues to widen the gap between “the have” and the “have nots”. The poor strive to put food on their table leaving little or nothing left to acquire “basic” services such as healthcare and education. That’s half of the population of Nepal.
Nepal’s recent civil war and continued political instability unleashed well-documented human rights abuses, including sexual violence against women, forced abortions to decrease the number of female children, female infanticide, and trafficking of women into prostitution. Even now, after the end of the civil war, there are more than 118 legal provisions as well as customs, rituals, and practices that directly discriminate against Nepalese women. Child marriage and child labor are a continuing problem, as is human trafficking. Educational differences also contribute to the low status of women—only 35% of Nepalese women are considered literate compared to 63% of men.
Preemptive solutions including education and vocational opportunities are helping to shift women away from marginalization and abuse. There is however a great need for more opportunity! Because Nepal is a country rich with resources and hard-working people it is an opportune environment to create a business or partner with existing businesses that need projects to sustain and expand their reach in providing gainful employment, particularly to women. Beauty is intrinsic to this country, not only in its proximity to the expansive Himalayas, but in its heritage of woven textiles, pottery and wood-working. While it is heart-breaking to see the fall-out corruption has reaped on this country, it is also in places like Nepal where hope and possibility are far-reaching.
And that is why GIVEGIVE is starting its first project in Nepal.
All statistics from CIA World Factbook
Being a western woman in the developing world is a bit of an odd thing. Not because we are generally heads taller, shades paler and always sweatier than the locals, no, the “odd” is what happens in your head. It’s wild here. Humanity is raw, it’s not sanitized or pre-packaged. It’s just down-right messy. So, inevitably you find your head spinning with questions that boil down to The One Big Question, “How is this fair?”.
It stops you in your tracks. Facing this mind-bending question of why each of us is born in to our place in the world is a hard hurdle to get over. I don’t know if you ever can. Honestly. Because the thing is, not one of us has the ability to choose the life we are born in to.
We all ask the “Why me?” in our daily lives, particularly when things aren’t going our way, when we feel unlucky, wronged, ripped-off, etcetera, whatever. But when you see small children with missing limbs begging on dusty streets or a destitute mother surrounded by her hungry babies, the issue of injustice becomes a little more hard-hitting. “Why them?” “Why not me?”
But, I’ve learned to stop asking this question with the intent of seeking an answer. There is no answer. Some might say oh that’s just bad karma. Others will say this is evidence that there is no God because a loving God would never allow such injustice. But there is no easy approach to this. And quite frankly, it is we humans who inflict injustice on each other, indirectly or directly. We can’t blame God or Karma. We can’t. We have to own the fact that we live on planet where there’s a lot of harm done in the name of self-preservation or power. There’s a lot of fall-out from bad choices made by ourselves or others. That’s the reality.
But that’s not the end of the story. The “Why?” can be the impetus to the “How?” How can we who have much help those who have little? How can we who were born in to relative ease and privilege help those who have felt nothing but pain since they left the womb? How can we be Grace to one another? And that, I believe is the true answer to the question of “Why?”. That’s where The Why ends and The How begins.
It is hard to describe the feelings I (Annalisa) have been experiencing over the last week. They’re somewhere on the continuum between excitement and anxiety. While I knew we were ready to come to Nepal to begin the execution phase of this incredible journey, I don’t think I was mentally prepared for arriving here. Truthfully, I don’t think that anyone from the US can really be prepared for seeing Kathmandu for the first time.
Tanja called her blog Beauty Lost & Found. It’s an apt title – and I was thinking about exactly that as we drove from the airport to our hotel. There is beauty here; the women’s faces and saris, the beautiful fruits and vegetables being sold at the roadside, the old brick buildings with their detailed ornamentation work and carved wooden doors, the temples, the colors of marigold and pink and orange that you see amidst the haze that settles in the valley.
But as we drove through the streets (an adventure in itself – think of a giant game of chicken between cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, buses & trucks, pedestrians and stray dogs), we saw trash everywhere, homeless children, a river polluted with raw sewage, people scrabbling out a basic existence by selling food in the hot sun… and more. Down-river, there was smoke. “That’s where they burn the bodies,” Tanja said. We drove on. We arrived at our hotel perhaps 20 minutes after leaving the airport. All that, in 20 minutes. I fought to hold back tears then, and we were only at the beginning, and watching from a distance, so to speak.
It is exactly this which confirms that we are supposed to begin here, and begin now. This is where we can do something. This is where we can serve. We don’t really know what awaits us tomorrow, when we meet with the first of the co-ops, but we are hopeful, and hope is needed here. It truly is.
I can hardly believe that it’s been almost two years since I left on a journey to the other side of the world that profoundly changed my life. So very much has happened in the last 2 years, all of it (with much grace) has somehow propelled me to this very place.
And so, it’s with great, great joy that I ready myself and my luggage to return to Nepal in just a few days. I am equally thrilled to be returning with my friend, partner-in-crime and co-founder of GIVEGIVE, Annalisa Oswald. It is quite literally, a dream come true.
I just re-read a couple of the posts from my blog/journal of that trip (Beauty* Lost and Found), particularly the posts about Nepal. I was reminded afresh of the raw beauty of that country. The mountains, the people, the community. It’s so different than my western life here. In some ways shocking, in some ways a total relief.
We are really excited about what lies ahead— even more so because of the gift of retrospect, the ability to look back, the ability to see purpose in the often rocky, messy journey that brings you to the place where you can finally see part of why things happen the way they do. My heart is grateful for that.
Here’s a sneak peak of what we will be sharing with you in a few days when we are on the ground. See you soon Nepal!
Nepal | Places: http://beautylostandfound.blogspot.com/2010/10/nepal.html
Nepal | Faces: http://beautylostandfound.blogspot.com/2010/10/nepal-faces.html
We discovered HOLSTEE and their super inspiring manifesto a few months ago, right around the time we started GIVEGIVE.
They just did a really awesome collection of stories of people that are making shifts in their lives to do something different, following their passions, etc. And, they included us in their collection. We are thrilled!
At least once a week, Annalisa and I both have these “what are we thinking?” moments. Starting a business is equally exciting and terrifying. We are good at some parts of the equation, and other parts we really don’t have a clue. Part of what makes this endeavor fun is learning new things. Part of what makes it scary is the realization that there sure are a lot of new things we need to learn!
I’ve been rereading one of my all-time favorite books— “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”, by Eugene Peterson. Its forthcoming and truthful message is that anything that we are passionate about, anything that stirs us to a lifetime of commitment, anything that requires a serious act of commitment and sacrifice, is in fact, a pilgrimage. A concept we hear very little of in our google-it-quick world. We are an impatient people and we want what we do to be act-and-react, start-and-succeed. This I know.
So we at GIVEGIVE are on a pilgrimage. This is a journey over unfamiliar terrain. We will ask a lot of questions along the way. We have to get comfortable asking for a lot of help. We will need to sit down and take rocks out of our shoes. We’ll probably need to turn around at times and retrace our steps. We’ll probably even want to quit and retreat to the comfort of the familiar at times. That’ll be normal. And that’ll be okay.
But, along the way, we’ll see incredible vistas, meet amazing people, hear stories of life-change. We’re bound to be indebted to countless hands who help. We’re going to learn more than we ever imagined and definitely arrive at a different place than we started.
“The experience of being in-between—
between the time we leave home and arrive at our destination;
between the time we leave adolescence and arrive at adulthood;
between the time we leave doubt and arrive at faith.
It is like the the time when a trapeze artist
lets go of the bar and hangs in midair,
ready to catch another support:
it is a time of danger, of expectation,
of excitement, of extraordinary aliveness.” - Paul Tournier, A Place in Time
So, here’s to the pilgrimage of extraordinary aliveness!