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For Mother’s Day, Don’t Forget The Lug Nut

Pascale has always been an artist. She works with papier-mâché, wood and textiles. But in January 2009 2010 her home and workshop in the coastal city Jacmel were destroyed in the earthquake that shattered Haiti. Her life quickly turned around with the help of an unlikely source: Macy’s.

Through its Heart of Haiti project, Macy’s paid Pascale, and over 200 other Haitian artists, cash upfront so they could rebuild their workshops, gather materials and create art and household goods, including canvas prints; brightly painted wooden trays; picture frames made of recycled steel and more, for U.S. customers.

Empowerment is the key here. In this case, 22 percent of the proceeds from each product go directly into the pockets of the Haitian artist who created it. Twenty-two might not seem like a large number, but it is when compared to the average amount of aid money that actually reaches the local economy, which is an unbelievably low five percent. The result? Money enters the local economy. Artists earn a living utilizing skills they have control over. And their artwork heals, inspires and promotes creativity in communities in need of all three.

Fairwinds Trading and BrandAid, two organizations that employ artisans from developing nations to create indigenous art to be sold in Western markets, partnered with Macy’s in Haiti. Prior to that they worked in Rwanda for their “Path to Peace” project, which employs hundreds of female genocide survivors as basket weavers. The head of Fairwinds Trading, Willa Shalit, said that Rwandans are now known as “the greatest weavers in the world.” She predicts that Haitians will become the greatest metal workers and papier-mâché artists, who will “be perceived as valued instead of useless and disrespected.”

But more than artists, Haitians, like Rwandans and other from the developing world, want to be wage earners, job creators and community builders. Marketing and selling these products can potentially lead to opportunities, not only for individual artists, but their respective countries. These opportunities may not immediately be financial. After all, how many Oprah “O” bracelets—made by women in developing nations living with HIV or AIDS—can change the world? That depends on the type of change you’re talking about. In the case of the “O” bracelet-makers, the emotional benefit of developing relationships with other women in the community living with HIV is often more important than the money they earn.

Helping artists integrate into the marketplace as entrepreneurs is one spoke in the economic development wheel – or hey, maybe even a lug nut. More than the proverbial spoke, the lug nut is what fastens and secures any given framework. Given the tremendous challenges facing communities in Haiti, Rwanda and elsewhere throughout the developing world, security is important, especially when that security leads to a better life. As Mother’s Day approaches this Sunday, it’s something we should all consider. Better lives are what almost all of our mothers want for us. It’s what we should want for the world too.

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