December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from the team at One World Projects!

We'd like to thank you for making the holidays brighter for artisans around the world with a holiday tree made from lanterns in Chaing Mai, Thailand, and inform you of our most recent holiday project...

With the help of our affiliate partner Charity Begins, we were able to hand-carry a donation of children's clothing and shoes to the Mae Tao Clinic, also known as Dr. Cynthia's, in Mae Sot, Thailand. (Mae Sot is a small Thai village on the Burmese border, and where the refugee women who weave our passport bags and scarves are also based.) The clinic provides free health care for refugees, migrant workers, and other individuals who cross the border from Burma to Thailand, and welcomes people of all ethnicities and religions. The picture below is of a boy (and his new shoes) who is staying at the clinic while his mother waits to deliver a new baby.

It was hard to pick just one group to give our donation to, as there are many worthy NGOs that operate in this area. We finally settled on Dr. Cynthia's because of the amazing amount of good it's done for the Burmese people, and for its non-discriminatory policy of helping any one in need, regardless of ethnicity, class or religion.

Please stay tuned for more reports of our work in this region and other parts of the world. Happy holidays and best wishes for 2008!

All the best,

The Team at One World Projects

December 9, 2007

Kabul Afghanistan - Final Day

Aid to Artisans has introduced us to more than a dozen different artisan organizations during on this trip. And while we haven’t had time to blog about each one, I did want to mention one particularly interesting organization called Turkman’s Women Actives Rights Association Afghnistan (TWARA). TWARA was established in 2005 with the idea of creating awareness among the Turkmen minority group living in the very remote areas of Afghanistan; mostly in the northern areas on the bank of the Amo River.

TWARA identifies Turkmen communities in which there is a very low literacy rate and a lack of awareness about the routine of daily activities. They work with the women to educate them in health-care, parenting, and life-style issues as well as promoting their skills in handicrafts, finding markets, and improving quality. Their primary craft is handmade carpets; both woven and felt.

The making of traditional Afghan carpets is very time-consuming but produces beautiful results, albeit with very hefty price tags. At TWARA, we found a unique alternative to the traditional Afghan carpet, one produced from felt, which is much more modestly priced. We have returned with a few of samples of quality felt rugs and we will see how our customers respond.

The key to Afghanistan’s future is in the hands of its own people. The Afghan people are strong, proud, and capable; possessing determination and resilience. But they need to be given the opportunity by the world community. The same community that has for decades brought only war, despair and destruction, now needs to contribute in positive ways and not by imposing their wills on the Afghan people through violence.

Yesterday I read an article on the BBC website( that said a NATO spokesman apologized for the lives of innocent civilians lost because of mistakes made by NATO forces, and indicated that steps were being taken to reduce these mistakes. But in the same statement, the spokesman defended NATO’s record by saying that their forces had killed fewer people last year than the Taleban, who launched more than 100 suicide attacks. It is sad that we have become a world where human lives lost can be reduced to mere numbers and statistics and justified as either acceptable or unacceptable collateral damage.

Afghanistan’s people need economic opportunity so they can provide for their families. They need meaningful work, education, and gender equality so they can regain self-esteem and a renewed sense of purpose. These things should be basic human rights afforded to all. Most Afghans live in abject poverty, earning less than $1 a day. The Afghan police receive $4 a day to put themselves in harms way, and the Taleban pay young men $400 to $500 per month to fight. Viable economic opportunities are needed to create any opportunity of peace, lasting change, or a better life.

I leave this first trip to Afghanistan with two images that epitomize the worst and the best in this nation's struggle on the road to peace. For me, the most difficult image and the most vivid, was when our driver turned the corner onto a busy and dusty, two-lane dirt road. In the middle of the road, aligned in a single-line (to reduce the possibility of being run over) sat five women in burkas begging for money. Many of the women had disabilities and their burkas were covered with the dust and dirt thrown at them from the passing cars. I was told that begging in Kabul was a recently acquired phenomenon; that in the past women were too proud to engage in this activity. The image is a symbol of all the challenges that Afghanistan is struggling to overcome: poverty, oppression of women, casualty of war, and the loss of self-esteem and self-worth.

By contrast, perhaps our interpreter from Aid to Artisans epitomizes some of the best of Afghanistan. She is an intelligent and independent woman who was born in Afghanistan. When the Taleban came to power her family fled to Pakistan, and when the Taleban was overthrown, she returned to her homeland to live in the country that she so loves. She received a degree in computer engineering at the Kabul University, and has been accepted for a master’s degree program in Marketing at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. She is passionate about learning and desires to find a way to use this knowledge to uplift Afghan women.

And while oppression of women is still common, particularly in the provinces, we met many shining examples of women that have educated themselves, become doctors, teachers, and community leaders.

From the point of view of artisans and artisans’ crafts there is much more diversity that we had expected. Most of the new lines that we will be acquiring are in high-quality jewelry made from gemstones like lapis, turquoise, fluorite, carnelian, amethysts, and quartz, embroidered textiles of handbags and clothing accessories, and felt rugs. We will also be working with NGOs like Turquoise Mountain to develop a line of ceramics and wooden carvings appropriate to the U.S. market.

I want to extend a heart-felt Thank You to Aid to Artisans for their work with artisans in Kabul; to help them with design, to understand issues surrounding quality-control, and to learn what is necessary to become export-ready.

For most of the artisans this will be their first experience of exporting to a foreign market and we feel privileged to be one of the first companies to work with Afghan artisans and further hope that through our relationships we can play a small role on the difficult road to peace.

I also want to Thank DAI and USAID for generously sponsoring this trip; without their financial contribution it would not have been possible.

December 6, 2007

Kabul Afghanistan - Day 5

It is the third suicide bombing in Kabul this week and you can feel the tension in the air. Even our driver admitted last night that he was somewhat anxious to be driving around Kabul. Yesterday, a suicide bomber drove up next to a bus carrying Afghan soldiers and blew itself up, killing 6 soldiers, 7 civilians, and injuring dozens of others. One of the civilians killed was the cousin of Aid To Artisan’s driver who just happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Violence of this type is on the rise in Kabul and local people are worried about the prospects for the future in this capitol city.

We visited two NGOs working with women who have been afflicted by the war: Women for Women and The Children and Women Education Fund (CWEF).

Women for Women in Afghanistan is part of a larger international NGO; Women for Women International. Their mission is to provide women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency.

Women for Women in Kabul provides business skills, vocational, and life-style training to thousands of Afghan women. They also provide loans to more than 4,000 women use the funds to establish their own micro-enterprises.

We asked the artisans to develop samples of several matching fluorite necklaces and bracelets in aqua marine, light blue, and purple.

The second NGO that we visited was the Children and Women Education Fund (CWEF), a Kabul-based non-government organization that provides education, vocational training, and instruction on women and children’s rights to more than 320 women.

We are working with this organization to create an Afghan teddy bear program in which a teddy bear will be given to an Afghan child for each that is purchased in the U.S.. Charity USA and One World Projects each placed orders for 300 bears--with an aditional 300 bears purchased and left behind to be donated to children. CWEF will also develop samples for an Afghan apron we hope to carry in the future.

December 4, 2007

Life in Kabul Afghanistan – Days 3 and 4

Winter is fast approaching in Kabul. When we arrived the mountains were bare, but now we awaken each morning to see a fresh blanket of snow rapidly making its way to the floor of the Kabul Valley. I’m told that the winter temperatures often drop to -20 F. With the high prices in gas and most Afghans living below the poverty line, it's a harsh existence. But while the weather may be cold, I find the Afghan people warm and friendly.

The markets are bustling with activity and fresh produce of cauliflower, carrots, pomegranates, and apples fill the humble stands of vendors.

Before we enter our hotel each night the car is searched for explosive devices by armed guards with automatic weapons. We pass through three sets of fortified-steel gates, and then we must have our bags searched and pass through metal detectors. We can’t even walk to the end of a block without being escorted by our driver. And while our movements are restricted, there isn’t an overwhelming fear of being kidnapped, assassinated, or blown-up. That being said, 22 people were injured today as another suicide bomber tried to blow-up a military convoy in Kabul on the road to the airport.

Tim and I have taken on the traditional black and white scarf and wool hat (traditional dress of the Pinshar men who reside in the Mountains of Northern Afghanistan) in an effort to blend in with the locals. Now, unless you hear us speak you would hardly know that we were foreigners.

The dominant architecture in Kabul is Early 21st Century War; as the remains of buildings bombed by the campaign to oust the Taliban litter the landscape.

The last few visits have been some of the most productive and encouraging.

Today we spent most of the afternoon at Madina Handcrafts designing jewelry made from recycled glass, fluorite, lapis, carnelian, quarts, turquoise, and other precious stones. Medina’s mission is to empower vulnerable and disabled women through building their professional skills, providing literacy, health training and capacity building to help themselves and their families to reach self-sustainability.

There are 21 women at the workshop in Kabul, many who are disabled, and another 200 in the provinces. The women, cut, shape, sand, polish and assemble the stones into jewelry. The workshop is hosted in the modest home of Shaima Shafaq who embodies the spirit and voice of Medina Handcrafts. Women come, many with children, and enjoy the solidarity and fellowship of one another while they work to provide for their families.

Just a few of the many wonderful new pieces of jewelry that we will be adding to the One World Project line of Afghan products.

I think this group is an excellent candidate for the Bridges to Peace Workshop 2008.

December 2, 2007

Kabul Afghanistan - Day 1 and 2

I’m writing after our second day in Kabul. To my surprise, we have found much more depth and diversity in the hand crafts being produced by artisans in Afghanistan then we had imagined; cotton and wool textiles (both embroidered and woven), jewelry made of recycled glass and stone, ceramics and wooden carvings. Most artisan crafts are made in the northern and western regions of the country, either in Afghan refugee camps inside Pakistan or outside of Kabul; little is available from the south and east near the border with Pakistan, a violent area still dominated by the insurgency and the Taliban. As I write this, I hear the morning call to prayer outside our window. It must be 5:00 am.

Not surprising, there are so many stories to tell. Every group we visit, and each artisan we talk to, is another example of the strength of the human spirit to rise above adversity. This country and its people have been deeply wounded by war; it is evident in the way that people talk and you can see it in their eyes. Nobody has been left untouched. As we drive through Kabul, we see building after building destroyed by bombs, the overwhelming presence of Afghan military and police, and the occasional presence of U.N. forces.

There is a feeling that security in Kabul has deteriorated over the past year, as the Taliban is beginning to resurge. One workshop organizer told us that while life under the Taliban was oppressive, there was less violence and fear of being blown-up by a suicide bomber or I.E.D. Now she can’t make the 1-day drive between Kabul and Jalabad without wondering if it will be her last. If you see an approaching convoy of tanks or other armored vehicles (usually U.S. military), you must quickly pull off the road and risk being blown up by an I.E.D. or fired upon by the military without any warning or provocation. Afghanistan and Iraq are now the mostly highly mined countries in the world.

Yesterday, we visited two groups:

Women of Hope was started by an American woman, Betsy Beamon, who once worked for U.S. Air Lines. After Sept. 11, she felt compelled to move to Afghanistan to assist in the plight of Afghan women, and arrived without any training, experience or a plan. In just five years, she's been able to create a Vocational Center that teaches more than 70 Afghan women to create crafts, and craft a future. In response to these women expressing a desire to educate themselves and their family, Women of Hope opened a school in Afghanistan that's grown to teach 200 children (130 boys and 70 girls).

There is also a refugee camp near Kabul called Ben-e-Wasak, a tent city in the middle of nowhere, that's home to more than 300 families. There are no stores or services, so the men have to commute 1-1/2 hours each day to Kabul looking for work. The Afghan government plans to move 42,000 refugee families into this area and to provide them with permanent land. When this happens, Women for Hope will distribute start-up kits to any resident who commits to start a business that will benefit the local community. Each kit will cost $500, and include the supplies a new store owner will need to set up shop. The goal is to fund a couple of grocery stores, as well as a propane shop, a bakery, tailor, textile shop, and a tool and building supply store. Ten percent, or $50, of the store owner’s earnings will be reinvested in setting up the next shop. This is how the community will grow and become sustainable. One World Projects will purchase one or more of these startup kits in the spring.

The second group, Zardozi, works with more than 2,500 female artisans living in Afghanistan and the refugee camps in Pakistan. (There are an estimated 1.5 million widows in Afghanistan, 70,000 in Kabul alone.) Zardozi is the most established handicraft project in Afghanistan and has been helping Afghan artisans to find markets for their handicrafts for more than 20 years. Their products include high-quality embroidered bags and gift items.

Today we are off to visit three more artisan groups: Turquoise Mountain, Nasima Silk, and Khaber Khosh Shop. Please stay tuned for the next report. Thank you for following and for your support.

All the best, Phil

December 1, 2007

A Time For Reflection…..

…..not on the past but on the future. As I begin this journey to Kabul, Afghanistan, I am aware that it isn’t without a certain element of risk.

There is an ongoing war here, and Westerners (particularly Americans) are not welcomed and often targets of violence. In recent weeks, many people, including members of the OWP Team, have questioned the wisdom of this trip, and asked, “Why are you doing this?”

To those who ask the question, I remind them that Uniting the World Through Compassionate Trade is our tag line, and our mission is:

● to provide viable economic alternatives to those who are the most disadvantaged
● to promote conservation and sustainable use of our world’s natural resources
● and to promote Peace in areas of the world ravaged by war and violence

We want to expand the principles of Fair Trade to that of Compassionate Trade by addressing some of the most pressing global problems of our age: poverty, hunger, lack of education and health-care, environmental degradation, the rights of women and children and global violence.

At One World Projects, we know that any worthwhile change does not come without sincere effort and sacrifice. As I write to you from Dubai, I also reflect that India, home of Ghandi and Buddha, two souls that I respect and admire and who did much to promote peaceful coexistence among all peoples, regardless of religion, race or status, is just a two hour flight across the Arabian Sea.

Few fair trade importers work in Afghanistan, for obvious reasons. We have come here because its people have suffered so much by decades of war and violence, and need our help. The average income of most Afghans is less than $1 a day. Men with few options available to them are often persuaded to fight in order to make a living, leaving the women to bear the financial burden of raising children alone.

Now the country seeks a new path towards peace and prosperity, although the road ahead is still long and difficult. We can sit back and hope others chart a course that leads to sustainable peace, or we can help shape its positive new direction.

In addition to adding Afghani products add to our extensive line of fair-trade crafts, and building relationships with new artisans, we will spend the week looking for artisan groups to participate in our Bridges to Peace 2008 workshop. This workshop will bring artisans from conflict and post-conflict together with buyers from well-known companies in the U.S. to produce new products for the consumer market. The workshop will be hosted in the Ecuadorian Amazon and include artisan groups from Afghanistan, Burma and Colombia.

We have hosted similar events twice before, but this will be the first time that the workshop has specifically focused on a theme of peace. In addition, we hope to produce a made-for-television documentary to chronicle the artisans and their crafts, and explore the principles of fair-trade and how economic opportunists can help build bridges to peace.