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Handicrafts

Boosting a craft workshop in Kyrgyzstan

Planeterra works with community organizations and nonprofits all over the world, using tourism as a catalyst for empowerment and sustainable development. Here is one example of how we brought on our newest partner, Ak Orgo, in the small town of Barskoon in Kyrgyzstan.

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Meet Mekenbek

Mekenbek is a passionate artist that has spent his life producing traditional Kyrgyz crafts. Mekenbek started a workshop in Barksoon village that primarily produces yurts and yurt decorations. Ak Orgo’s purpose is to preserve traditional Kyrgyz handicrafts while providing employment opportunities for the town of Barskoon, a community suffering with 80% unemployment.

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Finding Ak Orgo

The Ak Orgo workshop has actually been featured in Lonely Planet, and was found by a G Adventures’ CEO in Central Asia. G Adventures’ groups started visiting Ak Orgo in 2018, but it was clear that some additional training and infrastructure development was needed to see this workshop achieve its social enterprise goals through tourism.

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Infrastructure Needs Assessment

The basic structure for the workshop at Ak Orgo was already standing, but the toilet was not at a good standard, the kitchen was barely functional, and they dreamed of having a showroom where the artists could actually display their crafts for visitors.

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Infrastructure Grant

A grant was provided to Ak Orgo to fully construct a building outside the workshop that would house the kitchen, handicraft display room and the bathrooms. The community pitched in to complete the construction project in time for the tourism season to begin. This new building allows Ak Orgo to greatly improve the quality of experience they can provide in their workshop.

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Organizational Needs Assessment

Ak Orgo had no online presence, and struggled to find a way to capture the tourists driving by Barskoon. With the existing craft orders and partnerships the workshop was surviving, but not yet thriving or reaching its social enterprise goals of providing more employment opportunities in Barskoon. Ak Orgo looked to tourism as a launching pad that could help their workshop grow.

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Capacity Building Program

To address organizational needs, a training program was developed with the Association of Social Entrepreneurs Kyrgyzstan. The training program went over a period of six months, with trainings in three key categories – social entrepreneurship, tourism & guest management, and managing their online presence. Through this process Ak Orgo was able to develop their Social Enterprise Business Plan to continue tracking business and social targets for the future.

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Launching in Tours

As Planeterra works with our local partners, we also ensure that the experience is represented into the travel itineraries of G Adventures. Their first group of the 2019 season visited Ak Orgo on May 21, 2019. The group enjoyed a yurt building demonstration, a tour of the workshop and a traditional Kyrgyz lunch. The income earned through this partnership with G Adventures allows Ak Orgo to continue doing what they love, producing Kyrgyz crafts.

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Constant Innovation

Mekenbek doesn’t stop at craft production in the workshop. He is an innovator and creator at heart, and is constantly building new equipment that will allow their crafts to be produced in a less labour-intensive manner than traditionally taught. These innovations mean that more people can continue to produce the items and the culture can be better passed down to the next generation.

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Impact

Ak Orgo currently employs 9 community members and hopes to continue providing employment opportunities as their tourism program grows.

Planeterra couldn’t be more excited to see travellers start visiting Ak Orgo. It is our hope that tourism will allow them to continue to grow their workshop, hire more community members, and spread their unique crafts on to the next generation of artisans. Ak Orgo is a special place, and we highly encourage you to visit on your next trip to Kyrgyzstan!

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Zambian social enterprise empowers rural community

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It’s a journey in itself to get to the Mfuwe Village, nestled in the Eastern Province of Zambia, whether you take a car, bus, or plane. Nearly 10 hours by road from Lusaka, or a one-hour flight, one gets the impression straight away that they are in the middle of nowhere. With Mfuwe’s proximity to South Luangwa National Park, famous for its herds of elephants, scores of lion and regular leopard sightings, it’s hard to find a place as beautiful as this.

The beauty, and wildlife, have all created a perfect arena for tourism in South Luangwa National Park, which boasts a plethora of lodges, and more than 45,000 annual visitors – the most of any national park in Zambia. Despite its remoteness, there is a vibrant tourism economy here, and the Mfuwe Airport is constantly receiving flights of travellers eager to take in the safari experience.

Nestled between this airport and the park’s gate is Tribal Textiles, a workshop and bustling business that employs more than 100 Mfuwe locals. With an impressive corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, countless staff benefits, and a social enterprise model, it’s hard to imagine a business as socially conscious.

“South Luangwa is really benefitting from tourism a lot,” says Nsabila Njobvu, Tribal Textile’s Retail Manager, who has been working at the social enterprise for more than seven years. “The higher the number of tourists that we are receiving, the more poverty is decreasing because people have jobs and they are able to take children to school, able to afford a basic meal every day.”

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However, Tribal Textiles is constantly attempting to tear travellers off the road, or away from the lodges nestled far within the national park. As a result, they are regularly finding new ways of marketing their products, and last year they launched a new restaurant in an attempt to acquire tourists on their way to and from the airport. The restaurant, named the Courtyard Café, is run by local entrepreneur and chef, Dorica, who also runs a restaurant in the village.

“Before the restaurant, I had to go do farming in a nearby village to get money,” explains Dorica, who balances her new café at Tribal Textiles, and a restaurant run at her home in the village. “I am happy, very happy, because sometimes that side when there’s no business, at least here [at Tribal Textiles] you’ll find I have customers so I am able to take care of my family and to keep my business going,” Dorica explains. Not only is her restaurant and the Courtyard Café bringing income to her family, she has also been able to onboard staff as a result of the café’s success.

As it grows, the business expands their social enterprise model. Many proceeds from the products sold at the showroom go to initiatives such as Conservation South Luangwa (CSL), the Malimba School, and the Hanada Orphanage. The business has also opened a Community Artisans’ Market, to provide local artists with a space to sell their handicrafts.

Tribal Textiles is the perfect example of a business expanding as tourism increases, and with their social enterprise model and passion for giving back to the community of Mfuwe, they are set to remain an important part of the safari experience for travellers, all while empowering the local community to earn a sustainable living.

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Planeterra’s gifts with purpose

Need some last-minute holiday gift ideas? Planeterra partners have got you covered!

It’s holiday season, and what better way to celebrate than with meaningful gifts that give back? Many of our Planeterra partners host online stores, where you can buy locally-made merchandise that supports women, youth, and disadvantaged communities all over the world.

Still looking for a last-minute holiday gift idea? We’ve got you covered:

Penduka

One of our newest partnerships, Penduka is a women-owned and run business that employs local women that are living with disabilities, or have suffered from illnesses such as HIV.  

Support this enterprise by buying some of their beautiful textiles, jewellery, and more:

http://www.penduka.com/en/for-you/webshop/

UbuntuMade

Located just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, are our partners at Café Ubuntu, part of the businesses of UbuntuMade, a socially-conscious social enterprise that provides support to women and children living with disabilities.

Many of UbuntuMade’s products are sold in the United States, and their online store hosts tons of great buys, including tote bags, traditional beaded bracelets, and even something for our four-legged friends!

https://www.ubuntumade.com/collections/all

Nyamirambo Women's Centre

The Nyamirambo Women’s Centre in Kigali, Rwanda not only hosts travellers for tours and lunches, employing women in the tourism sector, but also hosts community classes for literacy, computer skills, and handicraft making.

Support the women of Nyamirambo by shopping clothing, bags, and other crafts at their online store:

http://www.nwc-umutima.org/products.html

Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre

The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, located in Whistler, Canada is home to a training program that empowers indigenous youth to conduct tours of the centre’s museum and grounds. The space is a celebration of the two indigenous communities of the region, and teaches local and international visitors about the region’s history.

Choose from clothing and other items depicting traditional indigenous art, handicrafts and music on their online store.

https://shop.slcc.ca/

Salaam Baalak Trust

Planeterra is working with Salaam Baalak Trust, an organization that provides safe housing, counselling, education, and support to over 5,000 children in New Delhi, as well as managing five safe homes across the city.

You can shop their online store and support their efforts through the purchase of tea, calendars and t-shirts.

http://www.salaambaalaktrust.com/shop.html

We’re excited to bring Sthree, our holiday campaign partner, into our social enterprise fold next year. We hope you’ll see some of their handicraft products soon!

Until then, you can support our campaign to launch their craft shop and cafe here

 

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Learning about the spirit of Ubuntu in Kenya

From the moment I stepped foot in Café Ubuntu, it was clear I was in a place filled with meaningful connections and change-makers, but nothing could prepare me for the magnitude of difference being made by the organization’s members.

Ubuntu is an African word used across the continent to describe a feeling of togetherness, and the widely accepted definition is simply: “I am because we are.” It is the word that celebrates human connectedness, and Ubuntu’s vision for the community espouses this ethos to perfection.

Café Ubuntu makes an immediate impression on its visitors. From the painted murals on the walls to the well-kept grounds located about an hour’s drive outside Nairobi, the entire visit is a feast for the senses. Smells from lunches being cooked in the open kitchen waft into the large room where handicrafts made on-site are laid out. Meat sizzles in pans, the pizza oven hums and the coffee machine steams as the entire café gives the impression of being a living, breathing entity.

Upon our arrival, Assistant Director Ruby Ruth gave us the grand tour of the kitchen and café itself, and let us taste our first course – a delicious zucchini soup. We followed in the footsteps of G Adventures’ travellers as we received a tour of the grounds and headed up towards the Ubuntu Made Workshop, where about 20 women, most with children with disabilities, hand-make crafts to be sold locally and around the world.

That’s the really special part about Ubuntu: the women who work there. Next on our itinerary was a discussion with three of them; Josephine, Beatrice, and Esther. All three have worked at Ubuntu for at least six years, and their families have benefitted from the school for children with disabilities that is funded by Ubuntu. A true social enterprise, the funds raised through the café and handicrafts go not only towards the women, but also towards a school in their community that employs a special needs teacher and an occupational therapist.

From our chat with the ladies, it was easy to see just how much of an impact both the school and their employment at Ubuntu have had on their lives.

“I have so many blessings through Ubuntu,” says Josephine to our group during the discussion. “After some time in the Ubuntu school they did an assessment on my daughter and found she could attend regular school. Thanks to Ubuntu, my job allows me to pay for school fees.”

Esther, who has also worked at the cooperative since 2008, chimed in to say that Ubuntu’s training helped her when she was displaced during election violence in Kenya. “I earn a living and I’m able to be with the family,” Esther explains. “I was able to buy a piece of land and I constructed my house there.”

It was an incredible hour chatting to the centre’s employees and receiving our tour, and as I sat down afterwards to enjoy a locally-made meal, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly blessed to have had such a meaningful discussion with just some of the cooperative’s members. This visit to Ubuntu was my first field visit as a new member of the Planeterra team, having just started as a coordinator in January. Although I have spent many years living in Africa, the experience with these ladies, the café and workshop is one I won’t ever forget.

Alanna Wallace
Coordinator, Planeterra

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