Despite the hard work that goes into their beautiful pieces of artwork, hand-crafted bags, baskets and more, many artisans in Nicaragua often times cannot provide for the basic needs of their families. A lack of business knowledge and tools leave many artisans without enough resources. Something had to be done to change how trade worked in the region. Enter Esperanza en Acción. The nonprofit, based in Okemos was founded in 2002 by Shannon Howard. Howard met two artisans while visiting Nicaragua who asked her to bring their carvings back to America to sell so that they could provide for their families. That first year Howard worked with a handful of artisans, selling their work through her church. Within a few years her project grew substantially, and after applying for 501(c)3 nonprofit status, volunteers started popping up all over America wanting to help. Jane Barclay and Pam Mayle were two of those volunteers. They joined the organization to help create fair trade for artisans and give them the tools necessary to produce beautiful pots, bags, baskets and toys for people everywhere to enjoy. “We teach the value of work and the fundamentals of running a business,” says Barclay about the program. “We are the source of education and empowerment that they can pass onto others.” Also offered to the artisans are micro loans for those who cannot afford supplies to create their works of art. “Many use bike spokes in order to carve and a toothpick to create their lines and channels,” said Mayle. “We’re sort of a clearing house from Nicaragua and internet orders and other specific places in the US.” The organization is not run by a CEO; instead volunteers work directly with the people they help, serving 25 different groups of artisans — overall impacting close to 1,000 people in the communities the touch. To learn more about Esperanza en Acción join them, Saturday, Oct. 6 for their annual Christmas in October event at Okemos Community Church, 4734 Okemos Road, Okemos. View a showcase featuring a variety of organizations interested in supporting work abroad, shop for unique crafts, foods and gifts, all while supporting a great cause. Check out their website for more information at www.christmasinoctobermi.com.
Ellen Dowling is a student at Lansing Community College. She plans to transfer to a university where she intends on studying journalism. She loves photography, poetry, art and exploring the city she loves with her dog by her side.