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Ending Slavery

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.  

Sources:

http://www.endcrowd.com/human-trafficking-facts-and-statistics/

http://freedomcommons.ijm.org/action-alert/end-modern-slavery-initiative

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Karama Easter

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. 

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Karama Collection Tour 2015

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. 

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Karama Collection Tour- Day 2

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.  

 

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This Is What Love Means

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!

Love is...

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. 

 

 

Love is...

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. 

Love is...

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. 

 

 

 

Love is...

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!

 

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Down in the Valley: A Trip to Iringa

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. 

  

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Karama 2014 Impact Report

The year 2014 was an exciting one for Karama and all of our staff, artisans, and donors. We were blessed with opportunities to travel, to deepen our relationships with our artisan partners, and to hire additional employees. We could not be more grateful for our families, fans, and donors; because of your support, Karama has experienced growth and progress toward our financial and spiritual goals. 

The winter months laid the foundation for many important events and changes to come. In January, Dorothy Mrema and Ashley Collins both interviewed for the position of Artisan Coordinator, which would be based in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. The Board also met to discuss plans for the coming year and to select the staff member for the position. Dorothy was officially hired in February. In March, Dorothy arrived and immediately traveled to Iringa with Ali for a visit to a long-time Karama partner.

 The Karama Board

The Karama Board

In the spring, Karama staff made several important trips. Jill traveled to Ethiopia in April along with Dorothy and Ali. They visited several artisan groups and made new discoveries, which has created new product lines and increased overall sales. Jill, Dyan, Ali, and Dorothy traveled through Rwanda to visit women basket weavers in southern Tanzania. May was a busy month as well. Dorothy and Ali traveled to Uganda to visit our paper bead artisans and to Kenya as well. They met Stephen in Kibera for the first time and began a valuable partnership. Dorothy, Ali, and Dyan worked hard to prepare for the Artisan Market, which was a huge success. Ashley was also officially hired. 

 Jill and Dorothy in Ethiopia

Jill and Dorothy in Ethiopia

 Dorothy, Dyan, Jill, and Ali at the Rwanda-Tanzania border

Dorothy, Dyan, Jill, and Ali at the Rwanda-Tanzania border

 Dyan, Dorothy, Nisha, Sona, and Ali at the May 2014 Artisan Market

Dyan, Dorothy, Nisha, Sona, and Ali at the May 2014 Artisan Market

The summer was focused on visiting artisans based in Tanzania. In June, Ali left to return to Nashville, TN with her husband for the next chapter in their lives. Dorothy traveled to Zanzibar to visit artisans and collect orders in July. She also made a trip to Tanga in northern Tanzania to visit an artisan. The YoungLife Freedom Walk took place over the course of the summer, and Dorothy, Ali, Dyan, and many other friends and family members took part in that powerful experience. August was spent visiting local artisans in Dar Es Salaam. 

 Dorothy and Mama Z in Tanga, TZ

Dorothy and Mama Z in Tanga, TZ

 Young Life Freedom Walk

Young Life Freedom Walk

The fall was full of changes and adventures. In September, Ashley arrived in Dar. She and Dorothy navigated this new partnership and visited local artisans. They made a trip to Kenya and Arusha in October to visit with several artisan groups. They collected stories and products. In November, Dorothy and Ashley traveled to Ethiopia to explore new partnerships and deepen relationships with current partners. They visited the Ethiopian Artisan Bazaar and three major artisan partners to plan for future product lines and collect samples. Karama also led a campaign to raise money for Ebola relief in West Africa. Dorothy, Ashley, and Dyan helped organize the Artisan Market, the biggest yet. In December, Dyan, Dorothy, and Ashley attended Swahili Fashion Week in support of African designers. Karama raised money for YoungLife Malawi in honor of the YL leaders who passed away in December 2013. Ashley went home for Christmas and worked in the Karama boutique in Evansville. Dyan and her family left for the US as well, where they will stay for the next several months. 

 Ashley and Dorothy in Ethiopia

Ashley and Dorothy in Ethiopia

 Ashley, Sona, Nisha, Dorothy, and Dyan at the November 2014 Artisan Market

Ashley, Sona, Nisha, Dorothy, and Dyan at the November 2014 Artisan Market

 Dyan, Dorothy, and Ashley at Swahili Fashion Week

Dyan, Dorothy, and Ashley at Swahili Fashion Week

 Ebola-Free West Africa Prayer and Promotion

Ebola-Free West Africa Prayer and Promotion

Karama grows because of the relationships between staff members and artisans, between employees and employers, and between the organization and our supports. We are able to grow because of the love poured out by all those involved - whether a Facebook fan, an artisan, or a Board member. We are strengthened through compassion, justice, and dignity - and in the belief that every life is valid, every life has purpose, and every life bears the image of God. 

Thank you for making 2014 incredible. 

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Season of Blessing: A Special Thank-You to the Karama Mamas

Karama was extravagantly blessed in 2014. A year's worth of staff trips, artisan visits, new products, new customers, and new relationships were splashed all over social media and celebrated between fans and employees alike. Karama is thankful for the incredible opportunities and growth, and the complex and chaotic system in place to make everything happen.

Beyond the hype and behind the scenes of the exotic locations and glittering jewelry, a flurry of activity keeps the Karama brand running. Faithful volunteers bustle in every week to do busy work, thankless tasks, and tedium: tagging products, packing up shipments, cutting tiny pieces of hemp cord in measured lengths. They're the Karama Mamas.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays hum with excited voices, bursts of laughter, and and the sounds of scissors snipping, boxes and bags being stuffed with green tissue paper, and computer keys clicking. The Mamas sip coffee and chat while carefully placing price stickers on cards tied by hand to jewelry and bags and ornaments. They make errands to the chilly stock room, artfully arrange and fold scarves over displays, and and take over the register when a customer walks in. They proudly sport Karama jewelry they bought for themselves and buy most of their Christmas presents to others straight from the store. 

The army of volunteers does far more than physical work; their jobs are spiritual as well. Mamas' prayers and conversations revolve around the lives of Karama staff members, the artisans we meet and come to know, and the future of the business. They handle the minutia of retail and the burden of seeking justice in a faraway place. They welcome weary travelers home and offer their houses and cars and time. The Mamas are the backbone of the Karama brand, and they help create the loving, gracious, and humble environment and mission statement by which the organization abides. Ladies, we wouldn't be here without you. Thank you for all that you do for Karama and the kingdom. 


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