March 8 is International Women’s Day and to celebrate, we’d like to showcase a local organization making a big difference in the lives of women. This week’s guest post is written by Roxanne Paiva, executive director at Our Global Village whose program The Community Cloth is weaving a path toward financial independence for women.
The Community Cloth is a microenterprise initiative empowering refugee women who have resettled in Houston. They support women who wish to create and sell handmade, indigenous arts and crafts such as woven bags, knitted scarves, jewelry, and more. These artisans express their culture and heritage through each handcrafted piece while learning new skills and earning much-needed supplemental income. The women come from Bhutan, Myanmar, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and all of the proceeds go directly to the artisans and the program.
Forced to flee their homes due to war, political violence, and a myriad of other reasons, the refugee journey is often tragic and always difficult. Some have lived over 20 years in refugee camps with little to no access to economic or educational opportunities. As the #1 resettlement city in the country, Houston is known for assisting refugees, but they face many challenges upon arrival including limited English proficiency, minimal education, and employment barriers. Despite these challenges, our artisans inspire with their resiliency and motivation to create a new life for themselves, and we are by their sides helping to make the American dream a reality.
The program empowers the refugee women through four core components:
Each participating artisan has access to seed grants, which she can use to purchase materials and supplies to begin producing her item. Artisans contribute back into the program through a process of “microbartering” whereby she gives the program completed products worth the amount of seed grants she takes out.
The Community Cloth hosts artisan training sessions to expose the artisans to the American enterprise system, teaching them basic small business skills as well as hosting product development training for those interested in expanding her product line.
The Community Cloth encourages rebuilding of those communities by inviting each artisan to join a peer support group — informal gatherings of artisans (who usually reside within the same or nearby apartment complexes) who get together to knit, weave, talk, and support each other in a variety of ways. They often build strong relationships and consider each other as friends or sisters.
The Community Cloth helps their artisans expand market opportunities through scheduling private in-home sales events, developing vendor opportunities with local retail partners, and organizing and promoting public sales events.
For many of their participants, this is the first time the value of their work has ever been properly appreciated or they’ve been compensated. Some previously engaged in similar work in the refugee camps and were paid less than $1 a day for the same work. The Community Cloth and supporters have been the conduit for more than $228,000 in direct income to participating artisans – and that number grows every time a piece is sold. The income allows the women to contribute to rent, groceries, their children’s needs, and education. To learn more, please visit thecommunitycloth.org.