‘Touch of Care’

 

I saw this video this morning, and I’m filled with optimism and joy.

I’ve shared posts before about encouraging movements from south Asia, targetting women’s rights, beauty standards and feminism. This is the first time I’ve come across a nation-wide campaign normalising transgender people and their lives.

I knew what to expect when I saw the article accompanying it on NPR, but it was still a wonderful surprise that the video didn’t preach, or generate a rallying call to arms, or worse yet, and as is often seen in south Asia, portray transgender people as caricatures or as objects of ridicule.

It’s a normal story about a girl on her way back to university, thinking about her childhood and her parent. Only at the end do you realise that her mother is transgender, though it’s hinted throughout the video through the partial shots of her mother.

The woman playing her mother is Gauri Sawant, an activist and head of Sakhi Char Chowghi Trust, an NGO based in Bombay which works with transgender people. The story in the video is based on Gauri’s life raising Gayatri, the daughter of a sex worker friend of Gauri’s. Many articles have sprung up in the past few days talking about it, Gauri’s work, and that’s generating even more discussion around the reality of transgender rights and equality in India – which gives me a lot of hope.

I’m buoyed by the fact that the social media response has been overwhelmingly positive, despite the – legitimate – cynical critique of Vicks. The link between the product and the video isn’t clear, this could just be PR stunt, etc. To me though, it’s not really an ad for Vicks in the way this was an ad for Tanishq, for example. So I’m treating it almost as a short movie, independent of the brand. It doesn’t matter to me if the ‘caring for families for generations’ super is accurate or not. This is an equally bold move for Vicks, and similarly to the Tanishq ad, makes a topic that’s either taboo or at best, marginalised, something for everyone to talk about. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

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Hungarian Artisan Christmas Market

My office recently held a Christmas fair, inviting the NGOs and craftspeople we support to sell handmade crafts and food. It was an incredible chance for us to meet groups from across Hungary working on many different issues, and to learn more about what drives them. I had the chance to speak to some of the sellers about their work, and thought I’d share their stories and some photos with you. If you’re looking for traditional crafts from Hungary, made by hand and with care for their communities, look no further!

 

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These candle holders are made out of recycled paper, by workers at Búzavirág Alapítvány (Cornflower Foundation). Búzavirág works with visually-challenged communities in rural Hungary, to enable them to live independently, since they receive little support from the local authorities.

They’ve been working towards self-sufficiency for the visually impaired since 1997, with the goal of providing financial independence and the self-confidence that earning your own money provides, through promoting traditional craftsmanship and teaching self-sustainability to its artisans.

They make pottery, baskets and carpets, and provide the necessary marketing and business skills to their artisans, enabling them to sell these goods at different craft markets. Find out more about the group’s mission, and the beautiful items they sell here.

 

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Image courtesy Búzavirág Alapítvány

 

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Image courtesy Búzavirág Alapítvány

 

Igazgyöngy Alapítvány (Real Pearl Foundation) has been working towards community development in eastern Hungary since 1999, and provides members of one of the most disadvantaged regions of the country with art education, vocational courses and builds community cohesion through family care. The organisation is split into an art school and a foundation, which works directly with the entire community while the art school is for children from the 12 nearest municipalities.

Children of all ages, from municipalities in Hajdú-Bihar county learn graphic design, handicrafts, enamelwork, painting and dance. All proceeds from sales of art school goods go back into the foundation’s work to provide community development to families, many of whom are also Roma and face multiple layers of discrimination and exclusion, particularly in this region of Hungary.

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Image courtesy Igazgyöngy Alapítvány

Image courtesy Igazgyöngy Alapítvány

Zsuzsa Formanek, an artist and founder of Budai Rajziskola, designs and creates unique decorative and practical works of art using recycled glass. Check out more of her work here.

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Courtesy Zsuzsa Formanek

Courtesy Zsuzsa Formanek

What do you think? Everything available in the market was beautiful, made with love and gave back to their communities. This is part of the reason I love Christmas – the push for meaningful, ethical presents for loved ones is strongest towards the end of the year, and it’s always great fun to wander around a market!

Global Inequality in Photos – Action 2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals

To coincide with this week’s UN General Assembly meeting in New York, where the Sustainable Development Goals will be finalised, an NGO-based movement called ‘Action 2015’ has gathered a collection of beautiful photographs demonstrating the vast gaps in equality that persist across the world. The aim is to draw attention to the universality of this problem, to caution against replicating the Millennium Development Goals (which many countries have fallen short on. Check out the rest of the project here, and don’t forget to add your name to the Action 2015 campaign, find an event near you and join their social media project#lighttheway!

 

Sebastião Salgado:

“My images of the Awá, a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe of the north-eastern Brazilian Amazon, reveal the devastating consequences of deforestation and shed light on the lives of the Awá, who have become known as Earth’s most threatened tribe. Pictured: The tracks of the illegal loggers go deep into the forest – Awá territory. These tracks are then used by illegal farmers who transform the forest into pasture for the cattle ranching.”

 

The son of Piraima’a in his father’s arms. Awá fathers are very close to their children.

Tanya Habjouqa:

The images of occupation – such as the ubiquitous photographs of veiled women herded into checkpoints – have lost their visual impact and explain only so much. There is much more here to humanise. Pictured: Members of the Gaza Parkour free-running team practise in a cemetery on the outskirts of their refugee camp in Khan Younis, Gaza. The walls show damage from past Israeli incursions, but this doesn’t stop the team from training.

 

Teenage girls in Ramallah try on dresses for a dance. Since they were children, all they have known is occupation but, despite that, they are not defined by that and refuse to let it be so.

Mona Ennab, a ‘Speed Sister’ from Ramallah, trains with colleague Noor Daoud at the Qalandia checkpoint during Iftar in Ramadan. Open spaces for practising racing are limited in the West Bank.

 

 

#Freedom2Me

In celebration of the end of World War Two 70 years ago, the Anne Frank House have launched a fascinating social media campaign called ‘Freedom 2 Me’. Since then, governments, policy-makers, international institutions and civil society around the world has struggled with some horrific examples of human freedoms being curtailed, and basic human rights ignored.

Can we truly say we have let go of the barbaric methods of the past, when modern day slavery, gender discrimination, sexual crimes, war crimes, torture and a multitude of other horrors are still very much a reality in our world?

This campaign is asking us to share what the idea of freedom means to us – as individuals or as a collective of humans.

What does freedom even mean? Is freedom defined the same way in every country? Do some people have more freedoms than others? It seems like a lot of people take freedom for granted. Not everybody in the world is free. In what way are you limited in your freedom and what kind of freedom would you wish for the future?

Share these ideas via social media – through their Facebook page, and on your own social media with the hashtag ‘#Freedom2Me’. Here’s mine!

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African Myths, Busted

We’re all guilty of some stereotypes about Africa – I’ve never been there and I can assure you I have my own, mostly based on literature and my academic interests in development studies. That’s not the problem, but we should ask ourselves why. This powerful video confronts them spectacularly and challenges many of the most common ones.

I’m surprised so many ridiculous myths about what Africans live, work and play like are so powerful, and so monochromatic.

For a continent the size of the US, China, India, Japan, Eastern Europe, UK and eight other European countries combined, the fact that there are still only a handful of images of its life and people is outrageous.

 

I hope you enjoy this thought-provoking video and its message. It’s high time we started a proper series of conversations about why we are painting an entire continent with one stereotype (and let’s not shy away from the racism inherent in all of these assumptions) and thinking nothing of it.

Reblog: How you can change the world by shopping!

I came across this post by Indego Africa, shared as a guest post on the One Campaign’s blog as well, so I thought I’d add to the shares! This is a great article about how and why what we buy matters, what we could consider when buying new things and how our consumerism can be a part of a strong activist movement.

This is something I’m deeply passionate about and have written a guest post about as well, for Hands Producing Hope. Read this and tell me what you think!

 

How You Can Change the World by Shopping!

This blog comes to us from our partner Indego Africa.

While many of us wish to make a positive difference in the world, it can be hard to figure out how to do it. As individuals, how can we drive change in our communities and around the globe? Where is a good place to start?

While many of us wish to make a positive difference in the world, it can be hard to figure out how to do it. As individuals, how can we drive change in our communities and around the globe? Where is a good place to start?

One answer – which may surprise you – is…shopping.

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Yes, that’s right – from the groceries we eat to the clothes we put on our backs, the decisions we make everyday about what and what not to buy can profoundly impact the world in which we live. This line of thinking – often called “conscious consumerism” – is on the rise as buyers are becoming increasingly invested in the way that products are made and the effects they have on people and the environment.

At Indego Africa, we believe deeply in the power of ethically made products that empower the people who create them. That’s why we partner with more than 800 female artisans across Rwanda, providing them with opportunities to earn fair-trade, sustainable income for their beautifully handcrafted products. We sell these pieces around the world, and pool 100% of the proceeds from sales, along with grants and donations, to fund education programs for the very same women.

While we are just one of a growing number of socially responsible brands, we want to share with you why we love what we do and hopefully inspire you to jump on the shopping-for-a-cause train too!

  1. Each product provides a woman with a real, living wage. We believe in paying our artisan partners fairly, honoring the incredible skill, patience, and creativity that goes into their work (some products, like our colorful plateau baskets, each take 2-3 days to make!)

    Making baskets. Imirasire, Rwanda

  1. With increased income, women are able to care for themselves and their families. Most of our artisan partners are mothers, and like all moms they want nothing more than to create beautiful lives for their children. We are deeply inspired by their determination and proud to see them earn enough not only to provide for their families’ basic needs – like food and housing – but also to invest in their children’s futures by sending them to school.

    Sewing. Ibyishimo, Rwanda.

  1. All proceeds go towards education. We believe that education is the key to empowerment. That’s why we provide our partners with a range of educational opportunities – both at our Leadership Academy and onsite at their workplaces – to help them develop the life-long knowledge and skills they need to thrive as confident businesswomen, creative entrepreneurs and powerful community leaders.

 

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  1. There is something distinctly special about a product that is handmade.We love to shop products made with love and care – to feel the soul and craftsmanship in every stitch. It is a way of connecting with artisans around the world – of sharing in their culture and traditions and celebrating their remarkable crafts.

Making lovebirds. Ibyishimo, Rwanda.

As you can see, empowering women through artistry and education is a cause we are deeply passionate about. But now we want to turn it over to you: what causes are most important to you? What companies are out there fighting for them too?

As Olivia Wilde, actress and co-founder of Conscious Commerce, likes to say: “your dollar is your vote.” By choosing to direct the money we already spend towards products and companies we believe in, we can not only make a difference in the world but also send a powerful message to corporations that we will not support products that are harmful to humanity.

It may sound simple, but as consumers we have more power than we think. By introducing a little bit of passion and purpose into our purchases, we can make a whole lot of difference.

Dyeing cloth. Imirasire, Rwanda

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Navy Hanging Basket

Navy Hanging Basket

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Floral Panama Hat

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To see more of our products, made with love by women in Rwanda, please click here.

Around-The-World Skirt

Disclaimer: I have never made a skirt before. I’ve used a sewing machine a couple of times to customise jeans, tops and dresses, sketching out ideas for how I want to add fabric, beads or paint on them. I have never looked at a pattern and made a piece of clothing from scratch. Time will tell if I’ve inherited any talent from my mother and my grandmother on this, I guess!

I’ve been wanting to make a skirt of this type since I was about 14, so I figured what better time than now to do this, especially now I’ve got more than a year?

Some ideas for patterns that I’ve been researching

It will be made with fabrics from around the world, but I don’t want to use anything mass-produced or cheaply available. Wherever possible, I want to use handmade, hand-spun, hand-dyed, environmentally-conscious and/or ethical fabric.

If this isn’t available, I will also be using scrap fabrics since that is recycled; but I’ll try to make sure that even these scraps contain some other ethical dimension.

I don’t want to buy bolts of fabric and if it’s avoidable, I don’t want to buy fat quarters since that creates more waste. However, I’m having so much fun thinking of what to do with them, I don’t think even a square inch will go unused!

I realise this has made the whole thing a lot more difficult for myself, but I think the skirt – and the process of making it – will be all the better for it.

Some ideas for patterns

I’ve been collecting these fabrics for some months, so wanted to share the incredible people and companies who make and sell these gorgeous items. I’m going to dedicate a whole category on WordPress to it, because I want to showcase each country or producer.

The fabrics will come from the countries I’ve lived in, visited or want to live in (So basically, it’s from virtually every country in the world! I said I wasn’t going to make it easy…)

I’ve found the process difficult and challenging at times, especially when I write to people and it turns out their materials are actually made in a factory in China. It’s also been challenging finding people willing to ship to Hungary, and to find materials from all the countries I want to get them – many are either in or next to war zones, have export bans on such things, or there simply aren’t websites dedicated to them. It’s not easy, but if the skirt gets made and looks awesome, how amazing will that be?!

I was lucky enough to visit the US in December, for work and I combined it with a few weekends with family. My patient and lovely cousin allowed me to order all manner of stuff and keep it in her room for about a month before I showed up! Have I mentioned I’m a little obsessive organised?

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Time will tell if this is going to be the biggest disaster of my life, or a triumphant success. Watch this space.