Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Yata South Weavers

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Machakos, Kenya

The Yata South Weavers group was started back in 1988 as a small workshop providing an income to women in the area through the production of local crafts. It has grown to be one of the largest communities of sisal weavers in Kenya, employing over 1000 women and exporting to both national and international markets. The organization is run by the weavers themselves, providing a model for a self-sustaining business with embedded leadership.

The facilities, located over an hour outside of Nairobi, are a production point for numerous designs of bags and baskets which are hand-woven by the women from sisal, a strong and durable natural plant material.

The Yata South women were delighted to host visitors. They gave us a thorough tour of their workshop, explaining the methods and skills behind their beautiful handbags and baskets.

The pictures of them working speak volumes more about their process than I can do with words, so photos are included below for your enjoyment.

A variety of their products can currently be found on www.ourfairearth.com in the handbags section – look for Kiondo bags.

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Sisal growing naturally
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Green plant material is removed from sisal leaves
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After this, a strong and durable natural fiber remains.
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Sisal fiber is divided into thin strands
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Strands of fiber are twisted into a rope in preparation for weaving
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Charcoal is ground for dyeing the sisal
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Gathering soil for dyeing
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Charcoal dust is boiled in water
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Boiling vats of dyes, which include charcoal, soil, soot, berries, roots, grass, and plants.
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Stirring the dyes
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Raw sisal is added to the boiling dyes
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After boiling for some time in the dyes, the sisal has its new color!
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Dyed sisal ropes are meticulously woven into a basket
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This woman was amazing! Her skilled fingers were flying
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After the basket is woven, excess sisal ropes are trimmed off
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The basket is trimmed for neatness, and the top fibers are sealed with a needle and thread
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At this stage, functional and decorative items such as handles, lids, and beads are added
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The result? Beautiful and stylish hand-woven kiondo bags!

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Kazuri - a bead to match every mood

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

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I first encountered Kazuri beads in a shop in Kampala, Uganda. Immediately I was enamored. My eyes relished the voluptuous curves of shiny hand-made beads artfully strung into captivating necklace, earring, and bracelet designs. I wanted to try each piece on, and finally settled upon a necklace named “African Sunset” which was generously given to me as a gift. The necklace was strung with circular rusty red beads reminiscent of African soil and the colors of the night sky, offset by artfully shaped smaller beads colored and polished a rich tan color.

I set my mind upon finding the artists who made these creations. I learned they were in Nairobi, which was my next destination. We got horribly lost the first night there when our taxi driver drove around for hours in search of our hotel, and ended up at a random guesthouse, exhausted, in the early hours of the morning. Confused and disoriented when the sun rose, I was shocked and exhilarated to find that I was within walking distance of the Kazuri beads workshop.

Upon entering the compound I saw a sign that said “Kazuri - a bead to match every mood.” Walking into the shop, I saw that this certainly was the case. I was soaking in a visual feast of beads in every shape and color I could imagine. I was even more impressed by the social mission behind Kazuri. They employ over 340 women, mostly single mothers, and also provide for them health care.

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Kazuri means “small and beautiful” in Swahili, a name which reflects the uniqueness and beauty of each hand-crafted and hand-painted piece. Kazuri designs are rich in color and alive with collaborative creativity. The organization was started in 1975 by Susan Wood, working initially with two African women experimenting in making hand-made beads. They have expanded drastically since then, growing both in their knowledge and skill of ceramics as well as the impact they are making in the lives of many women. Kazuri provides employment opportunities to several women in the Nairobi area, most of whom are single mother who are in great need of regular employment.

We are excited to bring you a comprehensive collection of Kazuri beads creations for 2009. The designs are reflective of the rich diversity and colors of Africa. With product names such as Papyrus, Lavender Girl, Night Sky, Bush Fire, Lichen, Lapis, Rain Forest, Acacia, Marina, Satellite, Monsoon, Golden Fox, Sand Storm, Bedouin, Ox Blood, Dawn Music, Savanna, and many others, you are sure to find a design that exactly suits your particular mood and style!

I hope all of you are well, and I look forward to seeing you in March!

Sincerely,

Holly Elzinga
www.ourfairearth.com

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Hand-made Paper Products from Uganda

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Fair Earth has developed a relationship with Paper Craft to bring you a beautiful product line of hand-made paper products.

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Following is information, used with permission, from their website.

About Us

Paper Craft produces beautiful hand made paper in Uganda using only natural raw materials such as banana fibers, pineapple tops, elephant grass and recycled paper. No chemicals are used! This paper is then transformed into beautiful as well as useful products and unusual crafty creations.

Paper Craft was set up in 2006 to provide a sustainable income for a group of socially disadvantaged Ugandans, (mainly women) through the production and sale of hand made paper and paper products. The majority of our employees would otherwise find it almost impossible to find a job or to support their families.

We provide additional income to local farmers by purchasing elephant grass and banana fiber. We also buy pineapple tops which are considered to be waste and would otherwise be burnt, as well as collecting scrap paper from offices in Kampala.

By choosing Paper Craft you are supporting a self-sufficient sustainable business, promoting environmental awareness and encouraging recycling.

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Our Workshop

We found a little house on the side of a hill.
A garden with mango trees, avocado and jackfruit.
The floors were made of earth and there was no electricity.
The walls were un-plastered and the doors not there.
So we set to work transforming this house;
we cemented the floors and plastered the walls,
added a verandah and brought in the electricity.

We started from scratch buying everything we would need;
a blender, a press, scissors, paper and glue,
tables and chairs, a computer, a printer
and a paper cutter or two;
drying screens, a generator; drums for water
and of course new designs from geckos to warthogs.

You should see our workshop now
A real hive of activity!

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The Natural Way to Make Paper

1. Banana fibers, pineapple tops and elephant grass are cut into small pieces and boiled for 8 hours.

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2. When the fibers are soft they are blended and recycled paper is sometimes added to create different textures and colors of paper.

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3. The pulp is mixed in large water containers and is removed using screens made of mosquito mesh.

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4. These racks, covered in the pulp, are then put in the sun to dry.

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5. The dry sheets of paper are removed from the screens and put into a press to squash them flat.

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Banana Fibre Paper

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Uganda is Banana Country. Not only does Uganda grow delicious sweet bananas but also green bananas or ‘Matoke’ which are the staple food for most of central and southern Uganda. Some of our paper is made using banana fiber which comes from the stem of the Banana plant (which is rather like an onion as it is made up of many layers). When the outer layer dries it can be peeled off the stem without killing the plant itself.

Pineapple Top Paper

Uganda also has THE most delicious pineapples in the world! We use the discarded tops of the pineapples which we collect from local markets and which are usually considered to be rubbish.

Elephant Grass Paper

As the name suggests this is a giant, course yet luscious grass that is used to feed cows and pigs and to stop erosion.

Bark Cloth

This is a very special material indigenous to Uganda that comes from the bark of a fig tree called ‘omutuba’. Bark is stripped from the tree, (without killing the tree) soaked in water and then beaten with a mallet and dried. Traditionally it was used as clothing. Paper Craft uses it to cover albums, photo frames and note books and to decorate cards. It is the same color as a ginger nut biscuit.

A Day at the Mara

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

5:00 am - The full moon still shines
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6:45 am - Sun rises over the Serengeti
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7:00 am - Zebras graze in the cool of the morning
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8:30 am - Wildebeests playfully lock horns
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9:00 am - Elephants divide into groups and decide if today is a grass or grazing day

9:30 am - Giraffes stand proudly in the morning sun
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10:00 am - Antelope search for patches of green grass in the heat of the dry season
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11:00 am - Encountering a Maasai village
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11:15 am - Masaai warrior welcome dance
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12:30 pm - Making fire for cooking
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1:00 pm - Inside a Masai home
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4:00 pm - Scratch me please
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4:30 pm - Elephant feeding time
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4:45 pm - Hungry lionesses prepare for the hunt
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4:50 pm - Breeding buffalo herd grazes on the plainsPhotobucket

4:55 pm - Lone buffalo strays from the herd
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5:00 pm - Lazy male lions wait for lionesses to hunt
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5:05 pm - Sensing danger, elephants keep their young nested between them
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5:30 pm - HUNT completed!!!! Time to eat
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5:35 pm - Holly looses her appetite for dinner

6:00 pm - Food coma
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6:15 pm - Giraffes line up on the horizon
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6:20 pm - Heavens open up
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6:30 - Heavens open wider

6:35 pm - Wider still
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6:45 pm - We are not the only ones watching the painting in the sky
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6:45 pm - I am breathless
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6:48 pm - Night Falls
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Henry, Valentino, and the Opios

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Friends,

I just wanted to share a few photos with all of you. The first ones are of Henry, the child that my Mom and Dad support in Uganda, and then of Valentino, the child that I support in Uganda. They live in the Katanga slum in Kampala, and we support them through an organization called FOCUS Child Project. This is the organization I worked with in 2004, and they are making an exceptional impact in this region.

The other photos are courtesy of my Ugandan brothers Joshua, Jonah and Jonah Opio. I gave them my camera the other day and they had a blast taking photos while we were washing dishes and feeding the chickens and working in the compound.

Hope you all are well!

Sincerely,

Holly Elzinga

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Discarded Flip-Flops turned into Art

Monday, January 26th, 2009

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Looks like junk?
Think again.

These discarded flip-flops that wash up onto the shores of Kenya are turned into beautiful works of art, jewelry, and sculpture by skilled artists in Nairobi.

Don’t believe me? Come see for yourself!

In accordance with Fair Earth’s focus in 2009 to bring you products that are not only fair trade but also green and friendly to our earth, we are proud to introduce Uniqueco Designs, a sustainable income-generating project turning discarded flip-flops into products you’ll love!

How does it work? Every year, thousands of flip-flops wash up on the shores of Africa. Accumulating from as far as Asia, the discarded flip-flops create an environmental disaster for the natural marine ecosystems. The rubber is mistakenly swallowed by marine life, and it prevents hatching turtles from safely reaching the sea. Being indestructible, the flip-flop rubber continues to accumulate causing the problems to exacerbate.

Instead of allowing these non-biodegradable materials to clog the beaches or contribute to ever-growing landfills, Uniqueco Designs is turning the flip-flops inro building blocks for a beautiful line of jewelry and accessories.

The sandals are already beautifully colored, so no extra dyes need to be added. They are sanded and glued together to create color patterns, and then infused with people’s creativity to form a diverse product line: sculptures, lampshades, beads, jewelry, tablemats, rugs, key chains – you name it!

The products are inspired by local ingenuity and employ a broad range of workers, from unskilled beach-combers to bead makers to talented artists and designers. Items are priced generously so all of the workers earn a living wage, allowing them to maintain their way of life and provide a better future for themselves and their families.

This same group also makes beautiful handbags out of discarded rubber tire tubes as well as a selection of products woven together from recycled plastic bags.

Let them be an inspiration. Next time you think about throwing something in the trash to contribute to our earth’s massive landfills, put your creative mind to work and turn it into something useful and beautiful!

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Wamunyu Wood Carvers

Friday, January 16th, 2009

When you look at a tree, what do you see?

Do you see an acacia spreading out its branches to provide shade for the dessert and food for the giraffes?
Do you see strong limbs extended as cool resting places for leopards, or a perching place for storks?
Do you see healing in the leaves and barks of medicinal trees?
Do you see firewood and warmth and food?
Do you see building supplies and houses and kiosks?
Do you see eating utensils and toothpicks and pencils and paper?

When you look at a branch or log, what shapes can you imagine?

Can you imagine turning it into a circle, a bowl, a vase? What about a giraffe or a lion?  Can you imagine visualizing a shape inside of a rectangular block of wood and making it appear by chipping away, little by little, until gradually the final form emerges?

I watched an amazing group of workers do so today.   They skillfully whittled away blocks of rosewood, ebony, olivewood, and jacaranda with hands that intrinsically understood the particular behavior of each of these raw grains.  Slowly figures of giraffes and elephants began to emerge, and I stood entranced at the vision and meticulous skill of the carvers.

Wamunyu wood carvers cooperative in Machakos region, Kenya was founded in 1918 by the Late Mr. Mutisya Munge.  He was greatly inspired by the artistic skills of the Makonde people in woodcarving, and worked to spread their knowledge and craft to his sons and neighbors.  Out of these efforts the Wamunyu cooperative was formed, and has become an art form and way of life for about 2000 carvers who are members of the coop.

The artists start with a block of wood.  The initial raw carving can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the size and intricacy of the design.  The piece is then refined with smaller knives and sand paper to smooth the edges and add detail.  After this, leather dyes are used on ebony to preserve the blackness of the wood, the mahogany wood is stained to enhance its luster, and then the pieces are coated with wax to give them patina and shine.

Any of the members may use the coop’s common space to create their artistry.  On-site is a showroom where their goods are sold.  Artists receive 90% profit from every sale, and 10% goes to the coop to pay sales employees and grounds upkeep.    The coop also pays government taxes so each individual isn’t responsible for income tax.

Fair Earth is delighted to bring you a wonderful selection of carvings from the Wamunyu cooperative.  These pieces will be available on www.ourfairearth.com, and in the Andersonville Galleria at 5247 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL in March 2009.    I hope you enjoy the finished product as much as we’ve enjoyed watching the artists create them!

Warmest Regards,

Holly Elzinga

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Message from the Gazelles

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

………… Masai Mara

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Ok, I get it, I’ll get out of your grazing territory.

(apparently the ostriches think the same way)

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Lake Nakuru

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Lake Nakuru National Park

January 9, 2009

Imagine you find yourself surrounded by an ocean of blue with an overlay of what looks like pink foliage. You tentatively move towards the shore, careful not to disturb the natural habitat. As you approach, you see that the sea of pink is composed of the excited wings of slender-legged flamingos and their long curved necks dipping alertly in and out of the water. You are mesmerized by the careful, controlled, calculated way they swoop in to catch their dinner.

Your senses are still tingling as you have just driven through herds of zebras, gazelles, and antelope.

You are standing on a white beach with sunshine beating down on your body. In front of you layers of wings, beaks, and long legs splashing in the water form a chorus of music dancing from sopranos to altos to tenors to basses. The chords intermingle and your skin is covered with goose bumps, despite the incessant beating of the sun.

Imagine.

On top of all of this, you are completely alone. You blend seamlessly into the landscape, your breath rises and falls with the rhythm of the water, and as far as you can see there is not a single interruption to the bursting and electrifying circle of life that engulfs you. You simultaneously hear complete silence and exploding sounds. There are no voices, no footsteps, no cars honking, no wheels screeching, and for a moment you think that you have escaped all noise. Then the sounds around you begin to come alive. You hear what sounds like a heart beating loudly in your ear, and for a moment you think it is your own. Then you look up and witness a mammoth stork taking rise in front of you, its powerful wings beating the air and sending vibrations to your ears. You hear the chatter of pelicans communicating, the wind picking up sand, and the gentle splash of the water.

Imagine. It sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Serene, peaceful, even intoxicating.

That’s what I thought at least. I was in heaven. The shores of Lake Nakuru engulfed me almost immediately. So much so, in fact, that I would have scoffed had anyone told me that three hours later I’d be covered head to toe in mud, eyes darting back and forth on the lookout for leopards, and praying for a miracle so I could GET OUT OF THERE.

The bursting and vibrating silence was interrupted by the screech of spinning tires. I turned around from my trance within the flamingos to see my driver Michael spinning in the mud. He had driven too close to the lake and was caught in a moderate case of quick sand. Initially I was not worried. I waved to him, motioning that he stop spinning his wheels, and came to assist by pushing. Immediately I regretted that decision as my feet sank into the soil and his spinning wheels spit a thick coating of mud spots all over my dress and face.

Walking to find a stick or a log or a rock or SOMETHING to dig out mud from under the car, I stumbled upon paw prints from both a leopard and a cheetah. Michael tells me they come to the water to drink, and its really not safe to roam too far from the car. As I tentatively walk along the lakeshore seeing more and more paw prints, I keep my eyes on the horizon ready to bolt at any glimpse of movement.

The next three hours were a whirlwind of mud, dust, beating sunrays, frustration, blistered hands, dehydration, and EXHAUSTION. Neither one of us could get a good phone signal, and when we finally did we were not able to get through to the Kenyan Windlife Service. Michael managed to connect with one of his friends in Nakuru who promised to attempt to contact them on our behalf. Meanwhile, the sun continued to beat down on our bodies, my drinking water was long depleted, and just as quickly my energy and patience were dwindling. The front wheels of Michael’s car had sunk so deeply into the mud that the car frame was also enmeshed. Pushing the car was futile. I found a jack in the trunk and we somehow managed to raise the car up using a jackpoint near the rear wheels where the soil was more solid. Then we found a sand deposit some distance away, and proceeded to use floor mats to haul sand to fill in the craters created by the front wheels. Of course sand is almost as easy to get stuck in as mud, so we weren’t making much progress.

Somehow in the mayhem we rammed the car so hard that the gears slipped and the axle jammed. The transmission would no longer go into gear and the front right wheel would not turn. We were mechanically stuck and literally sunk.

I was about ready to brave the leopards, cheetahs, and lions and walk through the jungle in search of another safari vehicle or park ranger to help us. In one last burst of desperation, our blistered hands frantically jacked up the car again. Michael hauled three more loads of sand, and as he lifted the front of the car to prevent it from sinking I pushed the back with every ounce of strength I could muster. Our adrenaline must have been skyrocketing because the car impossibly lurched forward, the gears rammed into place, and the jammed wheel was free. Michael jumped in while the car was still rolling and spun out of there in a fury of flying mud and swarming dust. I grabbed the jack and sprinted after him, knowing he wouldn’t stop before creating a great span of distance between the muddy shore and our equally mud-logged car.

My heart was beating wildly in my chest as we continued our hunt for giraffes and lions, but not because of the wonder of these animals. Rather it was from the exhilaration of finally escaping a place that had initially felt like paradise. So now I know, even heaven can turn into captivity if you get stuck there for too long.

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Greetings from Uganda

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Dear Friends and supporters of Fair Earth,

I hope you all are well and enjoying the holiday season.

As many of you know I am traveling in Uganda and Kenya for the month of January to reconnect with Fair Earth artisans and develop fresh designs for 2009. This trip has been long in coming and it’s hardly worth saying that I am more than happy to be back!

I will be visiting several new producer groups and look forward to bringing you a fresh selection of high quality fair trade items from Uganda and Kenya.

Thanks for your continued support!



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