Jul 10, 2020

Building a (virtual) global market for Tiger bags

Sarita works on a new bag in Bardiya, 2019
Sarita works on a new bag in Bardiya, 2019

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our appeals on behalf of family members of the disappeared in Nepal since 2015, when we first sought funds for them through GlobalGiving following the earthquake.

Over the last five years, with your help, we have channeled over $15,000 to these 28 courageous women and girls in western Nepal, all of whom lost relatives during Nepal’s long conflict. They live in the western state of Bardiya, which suffered more disappearances than any other district during the conflict in Nepal (1996-2006).

In spite of this grim past, there was a mood of optimism and even excitement about them when we last reported to you in February. Helped by past Peace Fellows and your donations, the women had formed a cooperative; told their story through two wonderful memorial quilts (one of which was shown at the UN); and developed a handsome tote bag carrying the motif of a tiger. We had brought samples of their bags to the US and received several commissions.

The women of Bardiya were also preparing to join a new campaign by their national movement, the Network of Families of the Disappeared in Nepal (NEFAD), to demand justice for their lost loved ones.

In other words, things were looking up in Nepal and the US. We recruited two very capable Peace Fellows from The Fletcher School (Tufts) and Georgetown to serve at NEFAD this summer and help the Bardiya cooperative to pursue their twin goals - building up their business and securing a system of transitional justice that addresses their needs.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since early March, it has been a struggle every step of the way. As with countless other community initiatives, the Bardiya bag project was put on hold. The cooperative had rented a shop near the Bardiya National Park in the hope of selling bags to tourists, but the shop closed. Members were unable to meet in person – an unbearable prospect for women who rely on each other’s company. The sewing machines fell silent.

The cooperative members looked for other ways to help in their communities. Using a small grant from AP, they made 200 face masks at home for local medical centers. This was useful, but there is now a glut of masks on the market. The cooperative will have to find other solutions if it is to stay together.

Sarita (top photo) and her friends have responded by adopting a bold strategy that could carry lessons for others facing the same predicament. Instead of surrendering to the pandemic, they have decided to exploit the opportunities it offers for a new approach.

Their first goal is to increase their stock of tiger bags. They will rent a new room nearer to their homes and take turns to work the sewing machines (and social distance) while the lockdown gradually eases. They had made over 40 bags when the pandemic struck and hope to make 100 by the end of the year. That will give them a cushion for when sales resume.

The cooperative will also use innovative branding as part of a new marketing strategy. Each bag will carry a small woven signature by the bag-maker to link it to her own unique story. Back in the US, the AP team will post photos of the bag-makers with their bags and hopefully drive sales when life gets back to normal.

AP is fielding an accomplished team this summer, and we want partners like NEFAD to take advantage of this to expand their market and their networks. One of our assistants, Grace, who studies at the Walt Whitman High School here in Washington, is reaching out to tiger conservation groups. Another, Taylor, at Elon University in North Carolina, will be posting regularly to our five social media platforms. We have also invited our friends at NEFAD to post blogs on our website. We hope to Zoom with bag-makers like Alina, 17 and Kushma, seen in the photos.

Last, and most important, we are not forgetting the core issue of traditional justice. Peace Fellow Beth from the Fletcher School at Tufts, is working with Ram, the founder of NEFAD, to produce a report for the United Nations on transitional justice. The report will help the UN Human Rights Council to assess Nepal's human rights record in Geneva next year.

All of this has given us a morale boost, in Nepal and the US, after some grim months. It also suggests the need for a new beginning. As a result, we have decided to start afresh with a 3-month microproject ro raise more seed money for the Tiger bags on July 15 – GlobalGiving’s matching day. We want the Bardiya cooperative to be prepared when markets open and travel resumes.

To all of you who have supported our work with NEFAD through the years, thank you! We hope you can continue to support Sarita and her remarkable team.

And to you all - stay safe.

In gratitude,

The NEFAD and AP teams

Tiger tiger! New bags from the Bardiya cooperative
Tiger tiger! New bags from the Bardiya cooperative
Sarita making masks
Sarita making masks
We're inviting Alina, 17, to be an AP e-pal!!
We're inviting Alina, 17, to be an AP e-pal!!

Links:

Jul 6, 2020

International service in the age of COVID-19

Peace Fellow Beth and AP Zoom with NEFAD in Nepal
Peace Fellow Beth and AP Zoom with NEFAD in Nepal

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our fellowship program through GlobalGiving. We have raised $22,016 so far with your help.

This is not the report I expected or hoped to send.

In January, our 2020 fellowship program got off to a fine start when four major universities - Tufts, Georgetown, the University of Maryland and SAIS/Johns Hopkins - agreed to help us recruit their students and contribute half of the stipends ($2,000). We received almost 40 strong applications and made 8 offers. Our partners in Vietnam, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda were excited.

Then came the pandemic. We cancelled all international travel and went into lockdown, like our partners.

In spite of this, our message to you is quite positive. Like most of the world, we have adjusted to the new normal and been forced to experiment. We are optimistic that this will strengthen our organization and allow us to support international service by graduate students more efficiently in the future.

Programs: The change starts with the partner organizations that host our Fellows each summer. When the pandemic struck they asked if we could help them launch small-scale emergency projects to combat the virus and generate some desperately-needed income. They also noticed that face-masks and soap were suddenly in high demand. Several knew how to stitch after working with past Fellows to produce advocacy quilts, so face-masks came easily. Our partners in Mali and Zimbabwe have also trained vulnerable women to produce soap with help from Fellows and they proposed to ramp up production. We raised $2,000 and added another $2,500 from our own core budget. This has enabled us to seed 8 micro-enterprises in 6 countries. All are doing well.

Sister Artists Quilts: We are also enjoying the fruits of Sister Artists, an innovative project to help survivors of gender-based violence in Mali produce art quilts in collaboration with quilters in the Global North. This produced 40 gorgeous quilts which we auctioned last week. The auction raised $10,210, which will be invested in an embroidery project for the survivors in Mali. Three past Fellows - Giorgia (2014), Refilwe (2015) and Rose (2016) - laid the groundwork for this successul initiative by training survivors to produce embroidery while they were serving in Mali.

Remote Fellowships: Three 2020 Fellows are working remotely for partners (photos). Beth, a graduate at the Fletcher School, is producing a report on transitional justice for the Network of Families of the Disappeared in Nepal (NEFAD). Wilson from Georgetown is the first-ever blind Peace Fellow and is sharing his unique expertise with the Gulu Disabled Persons Union in Uganda. Alex from Johns Hopkins is advising advocates for indigenous peoples in Colombia that have been hard hit by COVID-19 and paramilitary violence. All three Fellows have become fast friends with their distant hosts.

Interns/assistants: We are also fortunate to have attracted four talented students to back up our Fellows and address our many tech needs (including online conferencing). They have already nudged us closer to becoming a virtual organization by expanding our use of social media, live streaming, online tech support for partners, and podcasts. We have even started to produce pages for all past and present partners, something we have dreamed of for a long time.

Blogs: All Peace Fellows to serve at AP have produced weekly blogs, but blogging has taken on added importance this summer. Partly because they have no distractions in the field, and partly in response to the shocking murder of George Floyd, this year’s Fellows have already produced outstanding blogs. Beth asks whether aid is racist. In a forthcoming blog Wilson will ask whether disability is necessarily disempowering. Alex explains the link between Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 and the marginalization of indigenous communities in Colombia. Fellows have so welcomed the chance to express themselves that we have asked the entire AP team - and not just Fellows - to blog. We are also inviting Board members and partners from the Global South to contribute blogs. If it happens, this will make our site more democratic and authentic.

GlobalGiving: This year’s Fellows are posting four microprojects on GlobalGiving for their hosts in advance of the July 15 matching day. Once again we hope these will encourage innovation and lay the foundation for sustainable programs when the pandemic eases. NEFAD is launching a new online strategy to market Tiger bags from Nepal. The GDPU is supporting two micro-enterprises to produce soap and masks by persons with disability in Uganda. Alex is seeking funds to create a communications intranet for two indigenous villages in the Amazon region of Colombia, to share information about COVID-19.

Nothing can compensate for what has been lost to COVID-19, but these organizations are resilient and they are using what we can offer with flair and imagination. This applies in particular to our Fellows, who may be missing the excitement of working in the field but are helping their hosts to navigate this terrible crisis. In the process they are building their own skills as surely as if they were present on the frontlines.

We would not be in this strong position if it were not for the support and encouragement we have received from friends the years.

Please stay safe.

In gratitude

Iain and the AP team

Alex is advising indigenous advocates in Colombia
Alex is advising indigenous advocates in Colombia
Wilson offers inspiration to his host in Uganda
Wilson offers inspiration to his host in Uganda
Beth will report to the UN on justice in Nepal
Beth will report to the UN on justice in Nepal
Happier times: McLane and hosts in Zimbabwe, 2019
Happier times: McLane and hosts in Zimbabwe, 2019

Links:

Jul 1, 2020

Building a (virtual) global market for Tiger bags from Nepal

Kushma and Sarita sell Tiger bags before COVID-19
Kushma and Sarita sell Tiger bags before COVID-19

This update is being sent to friends who have kindly donated to our appeals on behalf of family members of the disappeared in Nepal since 2015.

Over the last four years, with your help, we have channeled over $15,000 to a group of 28 courageous women and girls in western Nepal who lost relatives during Nepal’s long conflict. When we last reported to you in February, they were on the point of launching a new business to make and sell their special brand of Tiger bags. They were also preparing to join a new campaign by their national movement, the Network of Families of the Disappeared in Nepal (NEFAD), to demand justice for their lost loved ones.

The women live in the western state of Bardiya, which suffered more disappearances than any other district during the war. In spite of this grim past, there was a mood of optimism and even excitement. Helped by our Peace Fellows and your donations, the women had formed a cooperative, told their story through two wonderful memorial quilts (one of which was shown at the UN); and developed a handsome and sturdy tote bag carrying the motif of a tiger. We had brought samples of their bags to the US and received several commissions.

Things were looking up in Nepal and the US. We recruited two very capable Peace Fellows from The Fletcher School (Tufts) and Georgetown to serve at NEFAD and help the Bardiya cooperative to pursue their twin goals - building up their business and securing a system of transitional justice that addresses their needs.

And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since early March, it has been a struggle every step of the way. As with countless other community initiatives, the Bardiya bag project was put on hold. The cooperative had rented a shop near the Bardiya National Park in the hope of selling bags to tourists, but the shop closed. Members were unable to meet in person – an unbearable prospect for women who rely on each other’s company. The sewing machines fell silent.

The cooperative members looked for other ways to help in their communities. Using a small grant from AP, they made 200 face masks at home for local medical centers. This was useful, but masks are no longer needed because there is a glut of masks on the market. The cooperative will have to find other solutions if it is to stay together.

Sarita and her friends have responded by adopting a bold strategy that could carry lessons for others facing the same predicament. Instead of surrendering to the pandemic, they have decided to exploit the opportunities it offers for a new approach.

Their first goal is to increase their stock of tiger bags. They will rent a new room nearer to their homes and take turns to work the sewing machines (and social distance) while the lockdown gradually eases. They had made over 40 bags when the pandemic struck and hope to make 100 by the end of the year. That will give them a cushion for when sales resume.

The cooperative will also use innovative branding as part of a new marketing strategy. Each bag will carry a small woven signature by the bag-maker to link it to her own unique story. Back in the US, the AP team will post photos of the bag-makers with their bags and hopefully drive sales when life gets back to normal.

AP is fielding an accomplished team this summer, and we want partners like NEFAD to take advantage of this to expand their market and their networks. One of our assistants, Grace, who studies at the Walk Whitman High School here in Washington, is reaching out to tiger conservation groups. Another, Taylor, at Elon University in North Carolina, will be posting regularly to our five social media platforms. We have also invited our friends at NEFAD to post blogs on our website. We hope to Zoom with bag-makers like Alina, 17 and Kushma, seen in the photos.

Last, and most important, we are not forgetting the core issue of traditional justice. Peace Fellow Beth from the Fletcher School at Tufts, is working with Ram, the founder of NEFAD, to produce a report for the United Nations on transitional justice. The report will help the UN Human Rights Council to assess Nepal's human rights record in Geneva next year.

In other words, there's a lot going on! This has given us a morale boost, in Nepal and the US, after some grim months. It also suggests a new beginning. As a result, we have decided to close this appeal and start afresh with a 3-month microproject ro raise seed money for the Tiger bags on July 15 – GlobalGiving’s matching day. We want the Bardiya cooperative to be prepared when markets open and travel resumes.

To all of you who have supported our work with NEFAD through these five years, thank you! We hope you can continue to support Sarita and her remarkable team.

And to you all - stay safe.

In gratitude,

The NEFAD and AP teams

Sarita works on a new bag in Bardiya, 2019
Sarita works on a new bag in Bardiya, 2019
Top on the line: Sarita with two of the new bags
Top on the line: Sarita with two of the new bags
Sarita making masks
Sarita making masks
AP Zooms with Ram and Sarita (below) in Nepal
AP Zooms with Ram and Sarita (below) in Nepal
We're inviting Alina, 17, to be an AP e-pal!!
We're inviting Alina, 17, to be an AP e-pal!!

Links:

 
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