Batsiranai Craft Project
The Batsiranai Craft Project is based in a highly-populated township outside of Harare known as Dzivarasekwa. “Batsiranai” translates as “helping each other.” The project supports mothers with severely disabled children living under challenging circumstances. In addition to living with extreme poverty, these families often suffer from stigma related to local beliefs regarding the origins of disabilities. Added to the stigma, many are living with HIV/AIDS (25 percent of Zimbabwe’s population lives with HIV/AIDS). The Batsiranai income generation project allows women to work near their homes, and thus support the needs of their families and to be available to care for their disabled child. Ten Thousand Villages began purchasing from Batsiranai in 2008. Ten Thousand Villages sells “Twin Dolls” from Batsiranai.
“Lynn’s mission with Batsiranai struck a chord with the board, who choose a select few from among many nominees to receive the Unsung Heroes of Compassion each year,” said Christine Wright, Event Coordinator for the Unsung Heroes of Compassion. “About 50 individuals from more than 13 different countries—all doing amazing, compassionate work—were chosen to be honored at this year’s event.”
“This event was a true example of the Ten Thousand Villages philosophy,” said Alex Hartzler, Ten Thousand Villages board chair who attended the event. “Regardless of where someone lives, or what they are doing, people doing good things are a blessing to know and to be involved with.” It was appropriate that Ten Thousand Villages was represented at the event, said Hartzler: “This shows what good work Lynn is doing in Zimbabwe with the mothers, and how Villages is allowing their good work to be a theme throughout our store network.”
When asked about what drove her mission to establish Batsiranai as a successful job-creation program, Poole repeatedly refers to the human face of fair trade:
“I have become a witness to the positive effects fair trade has on the Harare community,” said Poole. “I see the life come back into the eyes of the women and children who join the Batsiranai family.”
Helping Each Other
“Batsiranai,” which translates as “helping each other,” supports mothers with severely disabled children by offering them an opportunity to create products utilizing their traditional skills, for a fair price.
“Often the families in the Batsiranai artisan group live under challenging circumstances and suffer from the stigma related to local beliefs regarding the origins of disabilities,” said Poole. “The income generated from the Batsiranai project allows the mothers to work near their homes, supporting the needs of their families, and to be available to care for their disabled child.”
In an effort to support the youngest victims of Zimbabwe’s skyrocketing HIV infection rate, and to establish a means of continued economic support for Batsiranai’s artisans, Poole developed and successfully marketed the Twin Doll Campaign.
“The concept is simple: Batsiranai artisans create two handmade dolls. One doll can be purchased at Ten Thousand Villages, and its “twin” is given to a child of a family affected by HIV in Zimbabwe,” said Poole. “Many of the children who receive the dolls have never had a toy or doll in their lives.”
Distribution of the “twin” for each doll purchased at Ten Thousand Villages occurs in one of a number of ways—some dolls are shared through organizations working with needy families affected by HIV in the greater Harare area.
Two weeks after the introduction of the Twin Doll in Ten Thousand Villages stores in 2008, the more than 800 dolls produced by Batsiranai artisans sold out of stock: “The Twin Doll has been an overwhelming success,” said Melissa Hand, buyer for Ten Thousand Villages U.S. “It is a campaign that allows Ten Thousand Villages’ customers to feel a direct and very personal connection to a child living under great hardship and suffering in a country under dictatorship.
“Batsiranai is an example of how a social entrepreneurial effort can become a model for women’s empowerment,” said Hand. “It is not based on sponsorship and donations, but on the hard work of 140 women.”
Batsiranai artisans hope to expand their project to include more than 600 families who can help each other during enormously difficult times in Zimbabwe.