There is something so special about learning a skill from a family member. Sitting, listening, and observing the way of the craft, to eventually add your own style to the technique. The process becomes personal, and connection is formed between the loved ones and with the new-found skill. With the freedom to ask questions and make mistakes, the familiar environment breeds creativity. Artisans Mohammed and Khadija found rewarding work in a skill passed down through generations by teaming up with Asha Handicrafts Association of India.
A longtime partner of Ten Thousand Villages, Asha Handicrafts was founded in 1975 by an aspiring world changer named Iscah Andrews.
The late Mrs. Andrews started with a goal to eliminate poverty in the life of a single artisan; that goal has been surpassed thousands of times over in the past 40 years. Currently working with dozens of workshops and hundreds of artisans, Asha ensures that the workshops it partners with are employing best business practices in order to provide makers a safe and uplifting work space while earning a fair wage.
Mohammed, workshop owner and partner of Asha, is not new to brass work. He has been creating handmade jewelry using brass, horn, and bone for 24 years. He picked up the trade from his father, who taught Mohammed everything he knew from 43 years of his own experience. Carrying on what his father taught him, Mohammed joined up with Asha in order to pass down a better life to his family. His pieces are steeped in family tradition and meld different techniques.
Asha works with Mohammed to ensure he is paid a fair wage for his work in a timely fashion, allowing him to plan for the future of his business and his family and avoid going into debt. Ethical work and fair trade have allowed Mohammed to equip his family with the education necessary for a better life and enabled repairs for their home.
Mohammed does not work alone. He owns a workshop that employs 20 members of his community. Twelve of those employees work on-site in the workshop and eight of the artisans work from spaces in their homes.
To begin the process, Mohammed creates a sample piece. And then he works with the team at Asha to finalize a design. They develop a quality product that pays tribute to the family history of the craft. Like the Asha organization, Mohammed is passionate about working ethically. He monitors the artisans in his shop and those who work from home to make sure that child labor is never used and that men and women are paid equally for the same task.
Mohammed’s family tradition has empowered another individual who learned from a loved one; Khadija learned to work with brass from her husband. Originally starting to work at age 19 to support her mother, Khadija expanded her skills in brass when she married her husband.
He taught her how to finish the brass once it was shaped, and then check for any mistakes that may have occurred in the handmade process. With these skills she now works in the workshop with Mohammed finishing jewelry, checking to make sure a standard of quality is kept, and then packing items to send out to customers.
Working with Asha and earning a fair wage has changed the lives of her family.
Mother to six daughters, there is nothing she cares about more than helping her girls gain a better life through education. With a fair wage she has been able to give her oldest daughter the gift of a high school education, as well as continuing to pass down the family trade. She now works alongside her daughter at the workshop and is excited to see what the future holds for her. Khadija hopes to see her five younger daughters follow in their sister’s footsteps and complete their education— and with her job that dream is closer and closer to a reality.
Last month at Villages we had a chance to meet Rajesh Kumar, who will take over the helm of Asha later this year from retiring CEO Lucas Caldeira. Rajesh has traveled throughout India over the past several months, visiting each of Asha’s workshops and meeting with artisans, and he told us of the positive impact our long-term fair trade relationship has made in the lives of so many families. With Asha, thousands of artisans, like Khadija and Mohammed, have been given the chance to end the cycle of poverty in their families through the opportunity to earn a fair wage for their work, and through other support, like budgeting workshops provided at their workplace, and skills classes, in areas such as sewing.
After 40 years, Asha continues to live up to its word of “putting people before profits,”. Asha empowers artisans to create better lives by using craft traditions that have been passed down through families for generations.
Part-time kayaker, full-time national park enthusiast, Claire is a summer communications intern at Villages. When she is not hitting the books, this soon-to-be college senior can be found romping barefoot in her family’s vegetable garden or planning her next trip out West; Utah here she comes! Claire dreams of one day living in the mountains with a dog, a farmhouse, and the perfect cup of black coffee, but the rolling hills of Eastern Pennsylvania will do for now.