Crafting Through COVID: Our Artisan Partners Share Their Stories
While people worldwide are experiencing difficulties surrounding COVID-19--including massive unemployment-- our artisan partners are faced with additional challenges surrounding lack of work. Without the programs we have in the United States help the hungry or unemployed, most of our partners are left to fend for themselves, living hand-to-mouth and relying on their daily handcrafting income to feed themselves and their families. Without that income, they're forced to make difficult decisions, often making COVID a secondary concern to hunger. The stories our artisan partners tell us always highlight how their producers have struggled without work, and the great lengths they go to in order to feed their families.
Many artisans live in remote areas where access to raw materials was cut off and quality healthcare was difficult to access. Others live in crowded cities where employment and public transportation stopped, and where social distancing proved challenging as entire districts crowded with hundreds of thousands of people in less than half a square mile were quarantined.
But that didn't stop them. Through even their biggest challenges, the ingenuity and perseverance of our artisan partners continues to inspire us. Here are just a few of their incredible stories from the past months.
Our partners in India have continued to find ways to work and support artisans throughout COVID-19. Several have provided artisans with pantry staples and delivered food to those who were unable to leave their homes. But they remained hard at work crafting beautiful handcrafts as well. One of our partners in Mumbai tells us that their staff "started working almost around the clock to ensure shipments go out on time."
Many artisans not only rely on handcrafts to feed themselves and their families, but also to find safe and fulfilling work. Our partners in Ahmedabad shared this story:
"Our staff member Latha could not think of remaining at home without work because there was nothing to eat...When she came to work, her fear and anxiety was forgotten."
Some artisans found creative ways to continue making their handcrafts while under lockdown. One of our partners in Moradabad tells us that metal artisan Anwar arranged for the artisans in his workshop to continue to work. Anwar also joined the Civil Defense in Moradabad, an emergency and disaster response team, and went through the training while in lockdown. As a member of the Civil Defense, he received a pass allowing him to move outside lockdown, which allowed him to not only deliver his product but also to help our partners get important equipment and documents to their homes.
Like many of our partners around the globe, our partners in Bangladesh face challenges amplified by COVID-19--from a shortage of and clean water to inadequate medical care and a lack of access to raw materials so they can work. To ensure artisans could continue working through the pandemic, they had to get creative. "In some instances, our security guards used their bicycles to deliver raw materials to the producers when they needed materials," they told us.
COVID-19 hit our partners in Indonesia with full force. Much of their handcrafting income comes from the tourism industry, and this disappeared with lockdowns.
Our partners in Bali tell us, "The COVID-19 virus made us panic because there were no orders at all. Finally, the good news came. There was an order from SERRV. It felt like we had a windfall, and we called the craftsmen and prayed together at the office. Thank God, thank you SERRV, you have enlightened our lives and crafters."
Our partners in Java are experiencing many of the same challenges, and look to orders from SERRV and other fair traders to make a living: "The order from SERRV became an income savior for more than 30 artisan members to fulfill family needs during the crisis."
Our partners in Ecuador told us many incredible stories of their artisans working to support themselves and their families through the pandemic.
One jewelry artisan explains how he couldn't obtain bronze wire to finish his jewelry, so he had bronze melted down into sheets. He then had to walk over 10 miles from his house to get them.
One soap artisan had to carry raw material supplies by hand in a wheelbarrow. When the artisan and their neighbor were transporting back the completed handcrafts, not only did the police stop them to carry out a routine check, but they got lost because main roads were closed. Luckily, they were able to find their way to our partner's location to deliver their handcrafts.
Due to challenges like these and others related to COVID-19, many of our products will be arriving later than usual. But we'll still have plenty of beautiful handcrafted items and delicious foods in our warehouse in time for the holidays.
How You Can Help
Though our artisan partners are incredibly determined and resourceful, they still rely on the income they receive from handcrafting to make a fair wage. By shopping fair trade this holiday season, you're helping us place future orders with our partners, ensuring they have a continuous means to support themselves and their communities.
Every purchase makes a difference. You can also donate, and help us continue to provide advance payments and relief funds to the 40 producers we support in two dozen countries.
On behalf of our artisan partners, we thank you for your continued support through these challenging times.