Do you ever wonder what it’s like to be behind the scenes with our artisans in Africa? Awaiting my first trip, I wonder about language barriers, what it’s like to be in an African church, and the many facets of normal, everyday life in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. I wish I could sit down face-to-face and ask artisans how this work has impacted their families and spiritual development. When I received the assignment of interviewing Jill Morley, our Executive Director of Operations, I couldn’t wait to ask all of my questions regarding her experiences from the last few weeks.
"So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them." Genesis 1:27
This verse gives us insight into the profound truth that our Creator made each of us to reflect His image. Every person in every nation was made uniquely by God for a purpose. You may be asking, “What does this have to do with fair trade, and why should it matter to me?”
Today our friend, Lindsey Smith, Theological Coordinator at Proverbs 31 Ministries, shares her story about why she made the switch from shopping “fast-fashion” to shopping fair trade and ethical brands.
Lindsey is passionate about honoring the Lord through her purchases. Since we all bear Christ’s image, we have the opportunity to mirror Him. Lindsey shares,
“We are all made in His image. And the things that I was doing, while they were good for my pocket-book, they weren’t good in the way that I was allowing negative things to happen to other people who are image-bearers of Christ as well. In a way, I was treating people like a commodity. It’s hard to say, but I wasn’t thinking about the person behind the sewing machine or the person that was actually making the products.”
When we choose to think about these individuals and act accordingly, we are able to honor God and mirror Jesus in a way that can be seen by all.
Lindsey recognized that “there is a problem with fast-fashion.” Cheap labor and dangerous working conditions are behind fast-fashion. In contrast, ethically made products are the currency of fair trade and people are at the heart. The artisans who make fair trade items work for a fair wage in healthy, thriving environments. Lindsey shares, “When I dress in clothes that have been made by people in factories that are well-taken care of, I feel like I’m contributing to the common good.”
Sharing Significant Stories
Shopping fair trade can be expensive, but Lindsey has learned that the benefits far outweigh the costs. “I see it not just as clothing for myself, but as a way that I am able to contribute to someone else’s livelihood, so that makes it totally worth the added expense,” Lindsey explains. Since she has become more conscious of her purchasing decisions, she has been able to share her experience with others. She loves that fair trade products all have a significant story behind them.
In the past, when a friend complimented her on her clothing, she would say something like, “I bought it off the $5 rack at T.J. Maxx!” After making the switch to fair trade, her stories look quite different. “I love to tell the stories of the things that I purchase. It’s fun to share about the men and women who are making the items,” Lindsey shares. To learn more about the lives affected by fair trade, check out this video from Poverty Inc. It documents the damage of fast-fashion and highlights the true impact of investing in fair trade businesses.
Lindsey not only shops fair trade clothing… She also purchases tasteful accessories like Karama’s leather Addis Tote made by our talented artisans in Ethiopia. “I use my Karama bag every day. It gets better and better with age!”
Small changes, Big difference
At Karama, our artisans are paid a reasonable price in exchange for their lovely, handmade products. The meaning behind Karama’s name is “dignity”, and we fight to preserve that basic human right as we expose the talents of our many artisans, alleviating poverty one artisan and one small business at a time.
Like Lindsey, Karama loves fair trade because we too value people who make the products. Join us in supporting fellow image-bearers of Christ across the globe! As Lindsey says, Even small changes - they make a difference." When you choose to shop fair trade, you are making this difference in someone’s life, and to that person, the impact is not small - it is everything.
Are you as inspired as we are to shop fair trade and ethical brands? Keep a look out for our next blog post which will feature a list of how to spot and shop fair!
To find Lindsey’s favorite bag, shop Karama.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, I can’t help but think about what love really looks like. Here at Karama, love comes in various forms. It looks like the hands of individuals across the world working hard to provide for their families. It looks like the smiles of children and teens in Africa who get to experience the life-changing love of Jesus at Young Life Camp. It looks like the hearts of women who spend countless hours pouring into Karama’s mission... alleviating poverty by sharing dignity through creative, purposeful work for artisans.
Love looks like the hands behind the beauty
Love looks like these Karama Mamas, as we call them, who bring their time and their talents to work behind-the-scenes, never expecting recognition. I see their love for God, Karama, and one another in action as they faithfully pray for the artisans, gently care for each unique Karama piece, and constantly encourage each other.
Barbara Jo May, a cherished volunteer of 3 years, chooses to volunteer at Karama because she enjoys helping the artisans support their families. “For them to be able to use their God-given talents and also be able to provide for their loved ones is a great thing,” shares Barbara Jo.
Through Barbara Jo's eyes, love at Karama looks like “spending time serving others, making it possible for those in Africa to learn about God’s love.” She believes not only in supporting artisans and small business growth, but in Karama's commitment to donate proceeds to Young Life Africa, a relational ministry sharing love with thousands of African teens in 24 countries.
In addition, Barbara Jo values the special friendships that she has made. “I enjoy coming and being with all of the sweet ladies. I’ve made some wonderful new friends,” shares Barbara Jo. She knows that the same types of friendships are being formed across the globe at tables where products are made.
To the volunteers of Karama, love looks like the hands that are behind the beauty...These women see the way artisans have crafted their pieces to be unique and individualized. They recognize the artisans’ value, abilities, and creativity.
Love looks like shared dreams
The lovely jewelry, linens, and leather bags come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: they are handmade by artisans who dared to dream of a better life…
Dreams are being fulfilled and lives are being changed by the good work that God is doing through His people at Karama. Every Karama Mama can feel these dreams embedded in the fresh smells of leather, intricately honed bullet beads, and precisely woven threads of the Ethiopian cotton hand towels.
Love looks like you!
When you purchase a handmade Karama piece, you are making a lasting impact by supporting many faces across the world. When you recognize the innate value in others and choose to spend your time and talents to further God’s kingdom, love looks like you!
Shop Karama this Valentine’s Day ❤
The Giver of every good and perfect gift so graciously gives each of us various talents. God has gifted our friend, Baylee Mather, with the ability to encourage others by "creating a space for grace" through her writing. She is yet another voice in our Swirl of Good at Karama.
I fell in love with writing the moment I received my first journal and pack of gel pens. Putting pen to paper, I found I have the ability to correctly process my day, and all that may come my way, through a filter of truth, love, and grace. Journeying through each season of my young life, my desire to write continues to grow. I never knew I would one day be called to encourage and equip women to seek God and find His goodness and grace through the sweet and simple words I string together. Just recently, God has fostered this feeling I have to share my heart through my writing. As a result, I found myself packing and preparing for an opportunity that would change my life forever: She Speaks 2016. With a knot in my stomach and words of doubt racing through my mind, the Lord whispered:
“Be still, I am still God. I know the purpose and plans I have for you.”
I pulled open the door to She Speaks Conference chasing my dream to write words that move and matter. I was hungry for knowledge, wisdom, and guidance for this little desire burning deep within my soul. I grabbed my goodie bag and immediately browsed the booths lining the long hall. Even though I could barely contain my excitement that all She Speaks attendees had the special privilege of purchasing Lysa TerKeurst’s newest book before it officially released, I couldn’t ignore my doubts, nerves, and insecurities. My Type-A self desperately wanted control. I wanted to know what opportunities, connections, and assignments lie ahead over the next few days as I chased this dream of mine. In this very moment, the Lord whispered:
“Be still, I am still God. I know the purpose and plans I have for you.”
As I approached the end of the hallway, I noticed a woman standing alongside the most unique and beautiful displays of jewelry. Her sweet smile and inviting presence drew me in. I introduced myself and instantly felt comfortable sharing my heart and dreams with her. We connected over our passion for people and following after Jesus, one small step of obedience at a time. While my goal is to string words together that matter and move others closer to Jesus, my new friend seeks to spread the Good News by providing artisans in Africa an opportunity to showcase their jewelry-making talents. Her organization, Karama, alleviates poverty by restoring dignity through creative, purposeful work for artisans. As our conversation continued, she brought out a piece of jewelry that, without a doubt, had been made specifically for me to receive at this very moment. I was given a beautifully designed cuff made of hand-hammered brass, hand-stamped with the words: “Be Still and Know.” In this very moment, the Lord sent this precious, hand-made reminder that I must be still and know He is still God. He is still God over my circumstances. He is still God over my desires. He is still God over the whispers of doubt. He is still God over every purpose and plan.
“Be still, I am still God. I know the purpose and plans I have for you.”
Allowing this tender truth to seep deep within my soul, I rested in knowing I am not in control. I celebrated the fact that taking one small step of obedience, travelling over eighteen hours to She Speaks, allowed me to be in alignment with God’s assignment that He created just for me. God equipped me to rise joyfully to the opportunity of stringing words together that inspire and encourage others by being still and allowing Him to work out the purpose and plans He has for me and my writing. And today, I am choosing to be still and allow Him to dictate each step of my writing journey.
“Be still, I am still God. I know the purpose and plans I have for you.”
Artisans seeking to provide for their families while living in the largest urban slum in Africa have no choice but to be still. Daily, they must remember to surrender. God is still God over their living conditions, even if it means sleeping on dirt floors with close relatives. He is still God over their financial resources, even when they cannot make ends meet. God is still God over the sickness that continuously sweeps through their family circle, even when there is not adequate medical care at-hand. These artisans seek to live a life of dignity, relying on the purpose and plans God has for them, even when their reality and circumstances tell a different story.
“Be still, I am still God. I know the purpose and plans I have for you.”
If I didn’t make a quiet surrender to the One who is Higher, I would have missed the purpose and plans He has for me and my desire to write. If the artisans in Africa didn’t remember to surrender their hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a better life, they would have missed the opportunity to participate in dignified work through the gracious organization of Karama.
“Be still, I am still God. I know the purpose and plans I have for you.”
What opportunity is waiting for you in the quiet surrender? Is there a dream deep within your soul God is waiting to breathe into life? When you are still and remember He is still God, you give God the space He needs to fill in His grace and give your dreams wings.
We love seeing Karama in the eyes of newcomers, much the way gift recipients see Karama as they unwrap their handmade gifts this Christmas. Jeni McAndrews jumped into our swirl of good this summer. She beautifully shares her regard for Karama, as she reminds each of us the importance of furthering God's kingdom in daily living in her blog, Finding Rest.
Winter begins tomorrow and our eyes are focused on summer... camp, that is! Today, our guest blogger shares the connection between Karama and Young Life camp – "the best week of your life".
Summer camp! Remember it? Remember that nervous excitement before you left? Coming home exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time, hungry, yet filled? My girls are at that age now. As teens their need for experience is great, but their need for guidance is greater. That’s why we love YoungLife Camp. Campers are encouraged, entertained, and filled with the Spirit in a way that is completely suited for them. Some of their strongest friendships were forged at camp. Encouraging mentors still keep in touch with them, guiding them in their walk. It’s touted, “The Best Week of Your Life,” and for many it absolutely is. Camp is for all kids. That includes African kids.
Africa is a country rapped with poverty. Her landscape is rich, while her people lack. And yet, they thrive. Enter Karama Collection. Karama has given them opportunity. Karama has given them hope. Partnering with 27 artisans in six different countries, Karama is impacting Africa socially and economically. These artisans create beauty from recycled metals, sew leather into gorgeous bags, and use centuries old technique to dye linens. Because of Karama’s commitment to Young Life Africa, they are impacting Africa ETERNALLY. A portion of sales is dedicated to sending African youth to YoungLife camp! Generations of Africans will be changed because of the good work Karama is doing. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Teach a child to choose the right path, and when he is older, he will remain upon it.” This is where that path begins for many of them. This legacy will change nations.
I was introduced to this amazing company while attending She Speaks this summer. Drawn to the stunning textiles and the unique jewelry, I browsed around making my mental wishlist. I connected with a lovely woman from my home state who shared with me the mission of Karama, and I felt immediately connected to these people: unlikely choices, chosen to further the kingdom with their gifts. Their stories are woven into the fabrics they create, hammered into the metals of their pieces. The necklace I am wearing is called The Floating Necklace. It’s light and versatile. The diamond floats on the delicate chain, resting nicely at my collar. I love it on its own, but also layered with some of my other Karama favorites.
Follow Jeni's blog to find some rest...
I stare at these tiny beads and think of every handmade ornament passing through Karama this week, each one on its way to add sparkle to a package or fill a stocking with love. Every little hand-threaded bead represents dignity for an artisan and her family.
At Karama, we hear beauty in the chorus of many voices in our Swirl of Good. Today, we feature Taylor Ann Deitrich from A TAD MORE FAITH as she explores the story behind the style of our new Walk the Line necklace.
When I first walked into the conference hall at She Speaks, I knew a total of zero people. Anxious but excited, I found a spot on the floor outside of the Karama pop-up shop. I was fully prepared to just sit and look at my conference materials until the first session started. But God, like he always does, had another plan in mind.
While I was sitting there, a women named Kristine came over to talk to me. Immediately, we struck up a conversation about our passions. (Yes, not your typical ice-breaker, but we dove in anyway). We quickly came to realize that our passions are similar—and quite simple—in that we both want to work with people and show our love for Jesus. The only difference being that I feel called to fulfill my passion through written words and she feels called to fulfill hers through jewelry and other handcrafted items. Isn’t it amazing how God can show his love for us through so many different vehicles? Karama is a perfect example of this.
Karama is an organization that highlights the skills of those who probably never expected such an opportunity. Their artisans work from small shacks in Africa to create delicate pieces of jewelry out of recycled metals. While these artisans have few earthly possessions, through Karama, God gives them the platform to showcase their talents.
This particular piece is called, “Walk the Line.” If you head over to my Instagram page, you can actually enter a giveaway to win one yourself. I love this necklace because it is simple… But I also recognize that the story behind the necklace is far from simple.
When I wear this necklace, I often wonder what the artisans were thinking when they chose the design. I wonder what the straight line means to them. With a name like “Walk the Line,” it is certain to carry a story.
Jesus walked the line for us. He was nailed to a cross so that we may find eternal peace. This is a gift too beautiful to fathom. Everyday, when you wake up, you make a choice to walk the line towards Jesus. To glorify Him through your daily works. Some days, you might be on the right track. Other days, you may get a little off track (or completely turn off the path) before realizing that you need to turn back around. But no matter what that journey looks like, the line will always lead you back to Him.
Today, I pray that you recognize the beautiful path Jesus is leading you down. Sure, it will be bumpy at times and even filled with mountains that seem too steep to climb; but, He will be a constant presence by your side – willing and able to walk the line with you.
"He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion." - Philippians 1:6
Follow Taylor Ann's walk and work on her blog: A TAD MORE FAITH.
A blog from our founder, Dyan Larmey
In Greek “Dorothy” means Gift from God. That is exactly what Dorothy Mrema has been to Karama for the past 2+ years and to me personally for the past eight years. I’m honored to write this post celebrating Dorothy as she approaches her last few weeks on staff with Karama.
These words are inscribed on the doorway of a slight metal building, on a rocky dirt road lined with delicate structures and strong, enduring people -- oh, so many people. We’re in the heart of the world’s third largest slum, Kibera, outside of Nairobi, Kenya. The work within these walls is honest and precious, for it’s here that our artisans hand-make brass jewelry, building their futures with each piece. The mind, soul, and artistry behind this business was a peaceful man named Stephen, an artisan we recently lost to illness, at age 32.
Our sadness and loss has filled every room and flooded the eyes of every staff member, volunteer, and board member. We could end this blog in great mourning for this warm-hearted and talented entrepreneur and friend.
Instead, we collectively wipe our tears to see what lies in front of us: HOPE in his legacy.
We see beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair.
This legacy began with dignified work.
Stephen moved to the slum from his home village in southwestern Kenya. While Stephen searched for work, he noticed the prevalence of scrap metal within Kibera. Both his grandfather and father were jewelry-makers, so Stephen took the resources at hand and set to work.
Without formal training, Stephen refined his skill with practice and determination. He built this amazing business to support his greatest priority: his loving wife and two young sons.
For Karama, Stephen’s work represented not only incredible talent in brass, but fair employment for others. Stephen found employees within the slum, often young men who could not pay school fees to finish high school and had difficulty finding work. He treated them as apprentices, providing on-the-job training for each new employee. Our artisan coordinator, Dorothy Mrema, summed up his passion for the youth of Kibera:
“His heart was about bringing positive change to the slum and employing even more young people.”
Last month, our product design team returned to Kibera for our regular meetings with Stephen and his now 15 employees. Stephen shared his dreams to expand his workshop, and his hope to train more youth in dignified work. At his request, we closed our meeting in prayer. Stephen passed away one week after our visit.
Friends, we’re in Africa for artists like Stephen..for all of the artisans who strive to use their hands to support their families...for those who long to create using their God-given talents.
Stephen lived out his passion and the mission of Karama, to alleviate poverty by promoting dignity through creative, meaningful work.
His legacy lives on through dignified work in Kibera, where his family manages his business and his many apprentices are becoming artisans, preparing bold and beautiful pieces, letting the work of their hands speak for them.
“MAY THE FAVOR OF THE LORD OUR GOD REST UPON US; ESTABLISH THE WORK OF OUR HANDS FOR US - YES, ESTABLISH THE WORK OF OUR HANDS.” PSALM 90:17
Since Karama's founding, we've been committed to long-term investment in people, communities, and the environment. When those three factors are in harmony, something truly incredible happens. Read on as we share the story of a brand new product and its journey from trash to treasure.
It all starts with Danford Kilimila, a woodworker in Dar es Salaam. He has been with an organization that works with exclusively recycled and discarded materials for eight years. This married father of three (with two in school) loves his job and is interested in dhow wood and other products. His job allows him to save for the future, send his children to school, and provide for his family. Making use of recycled materials creates jobs for artisans and craftspeople while eliminating waste - and this is what it means to be a sustainable business.
Danford uses wood from discarded dhow boats, which are traditional dugout canoes used for fishing and transportation along the East African coast. The wood is full of beautiful imperfections - knots, holes, and remnants of paint from years gone by. Creative people like Danford and his colleagues invent endless uses and designs for this unused wood, one of which is the Rustic Star ornament!
We end up with a beautiful final product, full of character and charm. Using unwanted and recycled wood is great for the environment, provides purposeful jobs, and grows the economy of the local community. We're in love with this simple and sweet Christmas decoration, and we hope you will be too!
Twice a year, in May and November, a small team of volunteers (including Karama staff) organizes a gathering of entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and small businesses from all over Tanzania. This marketplace offers Tanzanians a platform to showcase their ideas and products to shoppers in Dar es Salaam while supporting employment, networking, and creative growth for artisans.
In order to participate, artisans, businesses, and nonprofits must submit an application with pictures of their products. Priority is given to groups that employ and empower marginalized Tanzanians and to artisans who need a way to get exposure in a competitive market. The Artisan Market Team prizes creativity and originality, and always seeks new faces to keep the market fresh and exciting.
For many organizations that employ disabled, deaf, impoverished artisans or are based in very rural locations, the Artisan Market is a chance to earn profits for the entire year and gain new supporters. With the exposure from the market, nonprofits can spread awareness and raise funds for artisans' salaries. The market also gives artisans a chance to learn new techniques and skills as they experiment with new product designs. With the increased amount of products for sale, the nonprofits can employ more artisans to create stock.
Many of Karama's artisan groups showcase their products at the Artisan Market. This allows the groups to participate in local markets, which helps artisans to put down roots in their communities, allowing for long-term growth and development. Karama can't always purchase large quantities of products from every group or invest in every kind of product that a group offers, but we can offer them a way to sell to other buyers besides us. Artisan groups become more dynamic and stable when they have multiple buyers with different needs.
The Artisan Market helps generate connections and community-building. The variety of products and artisans who make them creates an exciting atmosphere for vendors and shoppers alike. Vendors experience healthy competition and a place to cultivate new ideas, and shoppers help stimulate the economies of innumerable communities with their purchasing power. New artisans and artisan groups learn much-needed business skills while the vendors that participate in each market are challenged with the task of creating new designs and ways to sell their products. There is a spirit of teamwork, vitality, and creativity at the Artisan Market.
This May market was the largest and most profitable yet, with over 80 vendors and 115 tables sprawled across an outdoor shopping center in a busy part of town. The sun was shining, music was playing, and many shillings exchanged hands. This market was a success, and will continue to be a success as long as ambitious, community-minded, and creative people work to share dignity, employment, and opportunities.
As Mother's Day approaches, the Karama team reflects on the selfless, powerful, determined, and beautiful love of motherhood. Many of our artisans are hard-working mothers who have made enormous sacrifices to provide for their families and their children's futures. They are invaluable and irreplaceable. Here are a few of our favorite stories.
Yeshi (pictured with Dyan Larmey)
Yeshi is the mother of one (with one on the way!), and she has worked for the last 10 years with Karama's Ethiopian textiles partner as a finisher responsible for quality control. With her current job, she is able to provide for her family, save for her children's education, and plan for her own future. She has made an even greater commitment to providing for her family since becoming pregnant with her second child, and she wants to go to school to finish her own education once the baby is born. Yeshi is dedicated to preparing a bright future for her children by being an example of hard work and self-improvement.
Industrious and passionate about her job, Rute has worked for one of Karama's Ethiopian leather partners for a few years as a tailor and pattern designer. Rute has a 12-year-old son, of whom she is the sole provider since being widowed. With her income, she is able to make a life for herself and her son and send him to school. Someday, she wants to own a textile business, proving that challenge and hardship can't diminish her dreams.
Working for Karama's biggest jewelry partner in Kenya, Faith has loved every part of her job, whether making earrings or working on the machines (which she says make her feel strong). Faith is a single mother of a 9-month-old baby. Not only can she provide for her daughter, she can also contribute to her family's other needs, like her sister's school fees. Now that she works for and loves the jewelry business, Faith plans to go to college to study jewelry. She is planning a future for herself and her daughter, and she is working toward her goals.
So many more incredible mothers are part of the Karama family - artisans, staff and volunteers. We are thankful for every single one and for all that they do for those they love. We love you, mamas!
It's April 22 again - and for many, it's a time to reflect on what a blessing it is to live on this Earth. The beauty of nature and its invaluable resources are a gift to mankind. Here at Karama, all the gifts that Earth has given us is more than a pleasant afterthought, but an imperative. We believe that preserving natural resources and investing in organizations and people who are dedicated to "green" reforms is our job as stewards of the Earth. Here's what loving the Earth looks like to Karama.
We get excited when artisans use the resources that all around them to make beautiful things. From flowers and seeds used for natural dyes to wood from old dhow boats to flour sacks turned into fashionable purses to coconut fibers and banana leaves to make baskets, we love when people get creative about the materials used in their products.
Many Karama artisan partners are committed to re-using materials that would otherwise be thrown away, such as old magazines, tires, leftover fabric, glass bottles, and scrap metal. They give new life to "waste" and create something extraordinary from it. Reusing materials allows organizations to pay better wages because they don't have to spend needed funds on startup resources like expensive metals or cloth. While saving money, they're also helping clean up the planet by reducing waste and repurposing unused materials. One artisan group, pictured below, crafts beautiful journals by hand using paper pulp from elephant dung and natural dyes from flowers and red earth.
Sometimes, the materials are repurposed from something terrible to create something beautiful. An artisan group from Ethiopia melts down bullets and shell casings found in fields, leftover from civil wars and other violent events, to handcraft gorgeous high-end jewelry.
At Karama, we believe in treating every day like Earth Day. Our job is protecting the Earth so that people can be blessed by it, both as artisans and customers. Encouraging and celebrating the reuse and recycling of materials makes this possible. Thank you for investing in Karama and the people who work smarter and greener to bring fabulous products to you.
This week, Karama is joining the International Justice Mission in an effort to raise awareness for modern slavery and take a stand against complacency and inaction. According to IJM's website, 36 million men, women, and children are enslaved in forced labor, sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and other forms of physical and mental captivity (IJM). Women and children are at an especially high risk, as they are lured with promises of work or impoverished families sell their children to support themselves. The issues surrounding modern slavery are complex and entangled in national economies, societal structures, and lack of opportunities for education or work. What we do know is that modern slavery is a global epidemic, spreading across 160 countries and generating over $32 billion in revenue each year (EndCrowd).
Once we are aware of these staggering statistics, we are forced to confront how we as individuals and countries can solve the problem of slavery. How can we possibly combat this kind of hidden, lurking evil on such a massive scale? IJM has published resources and is generating signatures for a petition for Congress, and many other organizations exist to educate, rehabilitate, employ, and advocate. Karama hasn't joined IJM only for this week; in many ways, Karama has taken part in this fight against slavery from the very beginning.
Since our creation as a company, we have been dedicated to providing purposeful employment to those in need, which is a far-reaching and complex undertaking. When people can support themselves and their families, they thrive. They are less vulnerable to the lures of unkept promises of employment, to the need to sell their family members, to the desperation of seeking employment overseas - to the threat of slavery.
In one of Karama's partner organizations in Ethiopia, the goal is provide employment for women who are forced to seek domestic work in the Middle East, which often leads to slavery in the form of domestic servitude. There, women work for little to no pay under harsh conditions and are vulnerable to being trafficked by their employers. Yami, the organization's founder, currently employs two women, Azeb and Bezuayehu, who worked in the Middle East but have since returned due to new employment opportunities with Yami.
Azeb used to work in Dubai in order to send money back to her family. But since she has worked with Yami, who taught her how to work with leather, she has loved her job and her ability to help provide for her family. She pays rent and school fees and hopes to be able to save money for her future.
Bezuayehu is grateful to have found work in Ethiopia - especially work that she enjoys. Now married and pregnant with her first child, she plans to put money away for the future and start her own leather business.
Local, consistent, and sustainable employment means that people can afford to dream and make plans. It means being able to not just find purpose through their work, but also exponentially reduce the risks that come with extreme poverty, not least of all slavery. Investing in organizations that provide meaningful employment means thwarting the snares of forced labor, human trafficking, and servitude with opportunities, relationships, and conscientious consumerism.
Karama is committed to providing employment - and along with that, products with purpose. Knowing who made your products is important because you know how they were paid, the conditions they worked in, and that the artisans are individuals with dreams and plans. Committing to this kind of purchasing power can change the world. Though a huge and burdensome task, preventing slavery is humanity's imperative. One life saved from captivity, one story shared and spread, one purchase made through careful consideration - it may seem small, but these actions bear fruit. There is something we can all do in our own way to make the swirl of good grow bigger.
For many, Easter is time of celebration - of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection, of spring, of family, and countless other blessings. For the Karama team, this season is also a time of reflection. We think on the values that Karama stands for, our mission, our blessings, and the people we love.
Easter signifies a time of renewal and rebirth, which is especially poignant for Karama because that's our goal - to be a platform for purposeful employment that will lead to new life for the artisans we we work with. We hunger for a rebirth of people, communities, nations, and continents - that because of new opportunities to provide for themselves, peoples' lives will never be the same again.
For the marginalized - the deaf and disabled, the single parents, the artisans living in slums and rural villages, the outcasts and widows and orphans - employment is life. It's the chance to send children to school, to know where the next meal is coming from, to be proud of one's work.
So when we reflect on rebirth this season, let's consider the lives that are made new because of meaningful employment, creativity, and the recognition of one's value and worth. This is what resurrection looks like on this earth. And we at Karama are humbled and honored to be a part of it.
On February 21, Karama Mamas traveled from the US and Tanzania to meet in Nairobi, Kenya and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for an unforgettable journey through East Africa. Equal parts artisan visits, product design conferences, and brainstorming sessions over coffee, the Karama Collection Tour has been a time to build relationships with our artisans and organization leaders and explore Karama's future.
At the heart of all Karama activity is the investment in the artisans and leaders that we work with. We don't just love the products we sell - we love the people who made them. We aren't just interested in fair trade and good work conditions because it's right, but because we have beautiful friendships that have shown us the artisans' dreams, the families they provide for, and how their lives have changed because they are purposefully employed. We care about whether or not they're happy in their jobs, if they can pay school fees, or if they need prayers. In order to deepen those friendships and take an active interest in a person's well-being, we make personal visits to the artisans and organization leaders, which are a necessary part of open and consistent communication and showing people that they are important to you.
Because you can't know someone's story if you can't see the crinkles that form at their eyes when they talk about their children or what they want to pursue in college. Or how proud they are of their creations unless you see them skillfully working a loom or putting the finishing stitches into a leather bag they helped design. These details are the most important parts of our friendships, and we wouldn't trade them for the world.
When we can establish open and honest dialog with our artisans, magic happens. Full knowledge of products and materials available to us and a work time-frame pave the way for a flow of ideas about product designs. This is a beautiful process; we see the artisans in their workshops and get an idea of how much work they can handle and the scale of their abilities, we find out where their materials come from and all of the possibilities they offer, and we work on designs in person with the artisans themselves. This ensures that artisans are not being over- or underworked, and that they are treated with respect in an professional environment. We learn how to communicate with each other and brainstorm about the possibilities. We come away from the experience with mutual respect and responsibility.
The combination of personal and professional relationships creates a truly extraordinary friendship. We cherish our artisans as human beings and as creative individuals with incredible and unique abilities. We're proud of them because of what they can make and because we know about their dreams and goals. We know what they're capable of. Because we know these things, and because we love these people, we want to share their lives with the world - we want you to know them like we know them. The Karama Collection Tour has gathered ideas and products of course, but more than anything, it gives us the opportunity to gather stories. Every person who then invests in the life of an artisan through the stories we share becomes part of the Karama story - past language, geographical, and socio-economic barriers - to unite people across the globe.
On day two of our latest adventure, we woke up bright and early to share a delicious breakfast before getting on the road. We piled into a van and drove to the town of Murang'a, which is two hours from Nairobi, to meet with the women leaders of Young Life Nairobi. Once we arrived, we joined 25 volunteers and staff members in worship and fellowship. We filled our time with singing, dancing, laughing, and sharing stories, and then crowded into a restaurant for an authentic Kenyan meal. The Karama team was so blessed to spend time with these selfless and joyful ladies in mutual encouragement and praise to God.
How do you kill a 6-hour layover in the Atlanta airport?
As February 14th approaches, we at Karama reflect on the attributes that make this holiday special. What does it look like to celebrate Valentine's Day Karama-style? Love as we know it here is a beautiful tapestry of people and places, from East Africa to the US. Join us as we celebrate what love means to the staff at Karama!
Mama Fundi, a Maasai bead-worker, and Faith, an NGO leader, support each other in friendship and in the creative and purposeful work they share in Arusha, Tanzania. Love is the way they empower one another in spirit and employment and in the community they are a part of.
Irene makes jewelry in Nairobi, Kenya in the middle of a sprawling slum. Her employment at this jewelry workshop is a dream come true - she passed by the shop every day and saw beautiful things being made (by women!), and then pursued the job because she loves jewelry and wants a beauty shop of her own one day. Love is determination and passion, and pursuing your dreams despite all the odds against you.
These are just a few of the ladies who volunteer regularly at the Karama store in the US. The Karama Mamas use their time and energy to do all of the behind-the-scenes work that the shop requires. Love is selflessness and sharing your talents for the good of others. Love is community and being part of the big picture.
Just as we love the artisans we work with, we love the products they make. From scarves to jewelry and lip balm to baskets, we are so proud of every item that we sell. They represent the creativity, purpose, hard work, and dignity of every artisan who wove, stitched, beaded, and hammered each product to perfection. We could not be more thrilled to bring these things to you, our customers, and to participate in fair trade! Love is being able to share something special with someone you love - to give a gift that gives twice.
Each thread of the Karama tapestry represents artisans, volunteers, products, dreams, goals, accomplishments, and joys. Together, we've made something beautiful. Help us spread the love, Karama-style, by telling stories, giving gifts, and sharing dignity. Happy Valentine's Day!
It takes twelve hours to travel to Iringa, Tanzania - first by bus, then by taxi, through countless fields, forests, and villages. Dorothy and I left not long after sunrise, and arrived after dark at a lodge tucked deep into a forested hillside in the midst of a light rain.
Morning light flooded the valley - the fruit trees, rows of tea plants, and ribbons of red dirt paths were a mosaic of color and vibrance. This place was alive with school children, groundskeepers, teachers, seamstresses, staff members, and house mothers - a network of people dedicated to operating the extensive farm that dominated this region. Dorothy and I took a tour of the grounds, led by staff member Amari, who explained the farm's origins and its multitude of programs created to provide medical assistance through its onsite clinic, partner with nearby villages, employ locals, take in vulnerable children, educate them through the Montessori system, and offer opportunities to young people without education or prospects. The farm has been running for more than 50 years and is deeply committed to the people it serves.
Iringa, though beautiful, rich in resources, and filled with hard-working residents, is also home to abject poverty as a result of government corruption, little to no access to electricity or running water, poor educational resources, and the devastating ruin of the AIDS virus which has left thousands of orphans in its wake. The farm was created as a way to provide assistance to the region in the form of employment and education, which empowers its residents to support themselves and break the cycle of poverty.
After the tour, we piled into a bus with Amari, a couple of staff members, and Lisa, who has helped create a work program for women in a local village. These women are trained in the traditional craft of basket-weaving. Iringa is famous for its baskets - they are woven from dried grasses, which can be died into many colors, into intricate patterns and various shapes. Lisa has helped introduce new patterns and shapes so that the women can create a competitive business model based on growth and creativity. We arrived at a small house, where five women were seated outside on the porch, laps covered by baskets in various stages of completion. We all gathered inside after greeting one another, and the women displayed their finished pieces on a small table.
During this meeting, the women never stopped working on their current projects. We asked them if they enjoyed their work; "Yes!" they replied. The women are able to work when time allows, in the middle of tending their land and caring for their children. They can produce as much as they like depending on their needs for that week, and they can gather together and work as a community in the process. The women set the prices for their work, too. By conducting the business for themselves, they are in complete control over their hours, pay, and product, which gives them independence and empowerment. As Lisa pays the women for their baskets, we can see pride in their smiles and laughter.
In the midst of this poverty, there is creativity, power, and beauty - and we at Karama would expect nothing less from the artisans we have met over the years. This is fair trade, this is dignity, and this is purposeful, sustainable work. Help us to continue supporting artisans like the basket-weaving women of Iringa with your prayers, purchases, and personal interest in Karama.