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.