These colourful baskets from Ghana, Uganda, Madagascar and Bangladesh are much more than souvenirs from far-flung lands. Each of them, skilfully made by hand, also tells a personal story about the woman who made it and how she uses her work to escape poverty.
Each and every basket is something special and different, individuals just like the women who made them. Their names are Memuna, Immaculate, Shuchitra and Nirupama Saha; they’re from Ghana, Uganda, Madagascar and Bangladesh; and they are bitterly poor. Every article comes with a photo of the artisan, along with her personal story and an opportunity to get in touch with her through a protected online register.
The stories are positive and strong, they give courage and pay tribute to these women who have been given a chance - and taken it. Theresa Carrington founded the Blessing Basket project in 2002 and knows what it means to be poor, to suffer hardship and to have to fend for yourself. Those were her childhood. But the US American also experienced what it’s like when the people around you are not indifferent to you: years ago, it was the letters from friends and acquaintances she received that helped her through a crisis in her life and encouraged her to go on. She collected the evidence of the care and compassion that surrounded her at that time in a “blessing basket”, she recalls. It was an experience she wanted to pass on, and she believes it is one that can also help fight poverty in the world. The former journalist reached out through an online platform and quickly found encouragement for her idea from all over the world.
From this, the Blessing Basket project was born, with a simple but effective programme that teaches women a craft such as basket-weaving. Selling these fair-trade products means the artisans receive payments up to six times higher than they would otherwise. The money is intended to be start-up capital for the women, allowing them to found and lead their own enterprises after about three years and further training. Just like Memuna from Ghana, who makes a solid livelihood for herself and her four children from her own grocery store and is diligently expanding with further shops.
Carrington soon recognised that one outcome of the project was a change in men’s attitudes towards the women. “In most countries in the world, crafts are something only women do. By participating in the Blessing Basket programme, they suddenly earn money from it and contribute to the family income”, says Carrington. “This means a higher status for the women. The men stop threatening them and selling their daughters. Instead, they begin supporting them.” In Bangladesh, Carrington has already accepted eight men into her programme.
“Small things can make the world a better place”, says Carrington. The Blessing Basket, her non-profit project, now reaches more than 3,500 artisans in seven countries. But this is only the start: Carrington still has big plans, and she knows how to use communication and publicity to get there. Through the sale of handicrafts alone, she has established more than 160,000 contacts via the internet between artisans and their customers all over the world. When she entered her project into the Intercultural Innovation Award in 2016, she did this deliberately, as she says, to lift her project “to a new trajectory”. The Award, which is presented by the BMW Group and the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC), and which she displays on her homepage (www.blessingbasket.com), enabled Carrington to spread her idea of “the small gesture” to the world. She was invited to seminars and panel debates, spoke in front of more than 2,000 people at the BMW Group, received standing ovations and rapidly developed her idea further. To give even more women a chance to stand on their own in future, she will soon add scarves and shawls from Indonesia to her product range, which currently includes baskets, backpacks, aprons and coffee, and which she distributes through her online shop as well as in markets and around her home town of St. Louis, Missouri. The new articles, too, will carry the signatures of women who have courage and spread hope.
Find more information about the Intercultural Innovation Award here: https://interculturalinnovation.org/the-award/about-the-award/