March 15, 2012 Posted by Ryan in News

Dunia in the Idaho Statesman!

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The nonprofit at 1609 N. 13th St. in Boise’s Hyde Park sells arts and crafts to help impoverished artisans around the world — including Boise — and needs help itself.

“We are struggling financially,” said Dunia Marketplace’s executive director, Becky West. “Day-to-day store sales have gone down.”

Sales are down 30 percent from 2009, board president Katie Sewell said. “A third of what we’ve been doing is gone over the last three years.”

As a nonprofit, the store strives to break even, aiming for a $30,000 reserve to carry it through the slow months. “We entered this year with zero,” Sewell said, “and carrying a debt.”

Dunia is Idaho’s only nonprofit fair trade store, West said. Fair trade is an international certification that means workers are paid a living wage and have decent working conditions.

Fair trade is a lifeline for people in developing countries with no means to earn a living other than handcrafting. Fair trade includes long-term relationships (meaning consistent orders) and prompt payment so artisans can purchase supplies without going into debt.

Similarly, Dunia offers an outlet for local refugees and people struggling to develop marketable skills. The shop hosts a growing collection of local items, such as bags, totes, hats and scarves made by refugees from Artisans 4 Hope; glass work by newly released prisoners at Sustainable Futures, and hand-woven baskets from refugees from Rwanda.

“The stories are the same,” said Hildy Ayers, board president of Artisans 4 Hope, which teaches refugee women how to sew and knit as they learn to speak and read English, gain confidence and job skills. “They’ve spent years in refugee camps that look, (they say), like Occupy Boise. … We are helping people with limited skills earn a living.”

Dunia provides an outlet for their goods. Last year, Dunia sold 600 items made by local refugee artists. Along with sales comes an education.

“Here, we tell the story of who’s making it and the struggle they’re having as well,” West said.

Carlyn Blake, executive director of Sustainable Futures, said that mission is critical. “At Dunia, they talk about our social program and how we help people with employment barriers get permanent work.

“The truth is that what we do … is more important than the products we sell. That’s what really makes Dunia different.”

‘WORLD’ AND ‘LIFE’

Since its inception in 1996, Dunia has sold $2.5 million worth of fair-trade items — from 125 artisan groups in 39 countries — which translates to money returned to communities worldwide.

“Fair trade is bigger than we think,” West said. “In the communities where that happens, kids are in school, they get health care, they’re eating.”

She says that sometimes visitors to the store will remark that they could purchase a hammock in Guatemala for $5. “I look at them and say, ‘Is that fair? How long do you think it took them to make it?’ We sell them for $85 because they’re paid a fair price.”

Understanding, for instance, that women whose husbands have died of AIDS have come together to make a living for themselves is powerful, said Sewell, board president for Dunia. “Dunia helps people understand how they’re spending their dollars can make a difference.”

The idea of Dunia sprang from an annual Fair Trade Market at the Hyde Park Mennonite Fellowship.

Based on the success of those events, a year-round fair trade store opened in 1995 as Ten Thousand Villages, part of the oldest and largest fair trade organization in the world.

In 2009, the store decided to separate from Ten Thousand Villages for financial reasons and to carry more local items; it was renamed Dunia Marketplace. “Dunia” means “world” and “life” in multiple languages.

In the last year, Dunia also has organized and staffed 11 off-site fair trade markets and events. Volunteers host field trips and speak in classrooms about fair trading. The store also has raised more than $1,000 for other nonprofits at Community Shopping Events in 2011 and organized the Fair Trade Market at Idaho Green Expo for the past three years.

“The community has supported fair trade,” says West. “It would be horrible, if it came to that, if we had to go away.”

“(Dunia has) supported us from the very beginning and told our story from the very beginning,” said Sustainable Future’s Blake. “I don’t know what we’d do without Dunia.”

Katherine Jones: 377-6414

Meet the artists

Here are a few stories about people affected by Dunia.

CONGO REFUGEE WEAVES NEW LIFE

Venantia Mukangeruka, 52, remembers watching her mother making baskets, sitting under a porch in the back yard of their home in Rwanda. They would sit on a woven mat that her mother had made with her brothers and sisters. It was a happy time.

But in 1994, all that changed.

Venantia’s eyes turn sad. “Shooting. And the killing, too.”

Carrying just a hand-woven mat for sleeping and a pot for cooking, she and her family fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania where they lived for 23 years.

“Genocide is not a good memory,” translates her daughter, Marie Joselyn, 16. “But sitting with her mother, it is a good thing. A good memory.”

In Tanzania, Venantia became part of a group of Burundi women who sold their baskets.

“To be able to be alive, in Africa, they have to go in the garden and plant,” Marie Joselyn said. “But she didn’t. All she did was make her baskets. Because sometimes they buy it and then she would have money to buy something to eat.”

In 2007, the family came to Boise — Venantia and her husband, Claver Manirambona, and four children: Jasmine, 32; Sylvester, 23; Marie Joselyn, a Borah High School junior; and Pacome, 17, a Borah High School senior. Four more children are scattered in Africa.

“To come here to America is good,” Marie Joselyn translated for her mother. “Bad thing is we have family in Africa. If (they) will be with (us), it will be much good. If they come here, we would feel much comfortable with our family around us.”

Claver died in 2010. Venantia cannot work; she cares full-time for her eldest daughter, who is mentally handicapped. Selling baskets is the only way she can supplement the family income — and help her children in Africa.

“We had a lot of problems after my dad’s funeral,” Marie Joselyn said. “The big problem she has now is (wanting to) see her kids coming to America. She would be happy if people buy more (baskets).”

ARTISAN FINDS HOPE IN HER SKILL

From a worldwide perspective, much of the work at fair trade markets like Dunia is helping people earn a living by teaching them a craft.

That hits much closer to home at Boise’s Artisans 4 Hope, which teaches skills to refugees — knitting and sewing — stitched together with lessons in English, self-confidence and community.

One of the lessons is setting standards of quality, which teachers hope will ultimately spread into everyday life. “They’ve lived in a situation where ‘making do’ was good enough,” says board president Hildy Ayers. “Now they have to make things with a quality we can sell.”

When students get proficient enough, they become part of the artisan group, which makes journals, bags, hats, totes, placemats, potholders, quilts and scarves to sell at places like Dunia.

Eugenie Biyekele, 50, is from Congo-Brazzaville. She has been in Boise for two years, after 10 years in a refugee camp in Gabon. “Hard. Scared,” she said.

Eugenie learned to sew from a nun at school; she often sews clothing for her husband and two grown children and dresses for herself. “Boise — mountains. Good,” she says. “I like school. Sewing, it’s good.”

Eugenie might earn $80-$100 a month through her sewing. It goes for things for the house. “Soap. Food,” she said.

Ayers said one of the continual questions Artisans 4 Hope teachers ponder is how to come up with a price for students’ items.

“What’s the price of a story?” Ayers asked. “It’s about an investment in helping people.”

ACHIEVING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

When Rhonda Eddings came to Sustainable Futures, she was pretty much out of hope.

Her job as an office specialist in Oregon had been outsourced. In two years, she used up her unemployment and the last of her retirement savings, so she moved to Idaho to live with her daughters.

She was 57 years old, with a felony on her record and not a lot of job prospects. “I had nothing,” she said through tears. “I was hurting.”

She began the program at Sustainable Futures a year ago as part of the Department of Health and Welfare’s Working Solutions program.

“I had no hopes of anything,” she said. “And now I have job skills, I have an income. I’m independent — I don’t live with my kids. (Sustainable Futures) pretty much saved my life.”

On the surface, Sustainable Futures recycles glass bottles into drinking glasses, wind chimes, hurricane lamps, candles, vases and bowls, plus glass etching.

The heart of their work, however, is working with people who have few job skills, like refugees, offenders, low-income people over 55 and at-risk youths. Vocationally, clients are taught inventory management, production operations, quality control and shipping and packaging.

In addition, participants are evaluated on attendance, punctuality and appearance; and the ability to accept direction, work as a team and learn new things.

“Dunia is interested in what we do in the community, in addition to the fact that we have a beautiful product,” said Carlyn Blake, executive director. “More than anyone else.” Because the nonprofit is young, it struggles to get grants and donations to cover operating expenses, which makes retail outlets important.

“Dunia has been with us from the very beginning. They are probably in the first five customers who said they would buy glass from us,” Blake said.

After she completed the program, Eddings was hired full time by Sustainable Futures. “I just love it,” she says. “Just the sense of accomplishment. To see something finished — and know you were a big part of it. Having something to do that’s meaningful.

“My future looks good,” she said. “I don’t plan on leaving them.”

MORE BASKETS FROM CONGO

Lea Mbonimpa, 55, was born in Burundi, raised in Rwanda, and has been selling her baskets since she was 16 years old. “No school,” she said. “Make, make, make, make.” She would spend mornings working in the garden and afternoons making baskets to sell in market.

The family fled to a Tanzanian refugee camp during the genocide in 1994. In 2007, they arrived in Boise, just a few months before her friend Venantia, whom she knew in Rwanda. Together, the two of them received a Traditional Artists Apprenticeship from the Idaho Commission on the Arts to deepen their skill. “She want to remember. She doesn’t want to forget her culture,” her daughter, Anita Niyonzima, 21, translated.

Lea works full-time wrapping chocolates and her husband is a janitor, but income from baskets means spreading their finances further. They have three children and a grandson in Boise, and three adult children in Africa. They worry about one daughter in particular, who, with three children, is in a refugee camp in Tanzania.

“Baskets helping because I selling,” Lea said. “I get money, sending money to children back in Africa. …They hungry. In poverty. (They have) little, little, little.”

TRAVEL AND VOLUNTEERISM

For six years, Travis Thompson, 25, has been traveling around the world. For the last three, he’s been a volunteer in northern India, working with Tibetans in exile in Dharamsala.

When he returned to the United States in 2011 to attend Boise State University’s school of social work, he brought with him handicrafts from a group of single mothers.

The program teaches the women to sew and make the handicrafts — beaded necklaces, scarves, hats, bags — so they can start to earn basic living expenses and send their children to school.

Travis formed a non-profit called Targeting Advocacy to Conserve Traditional Indigenous Cultures (TACTIC) which — among other things — buys materials for the women, pays them an hourly wage and purchases their crafts. Their work is for sale at Dunia; proceeds are returned to the programs in India.

He appreciates Dunia’s unique role. “They are working at a community level as well as international level for social advocacy and awareness.

“In the greater aspect, my idea is to show people the similarities between the life of a Tibetan refugee and how it compares easily with a person in America,” he says — single motherhood being a prime example. “Our instincts and values are basically the same.”

Along with the handwork, Dunia carries several books that Travis has co-authored and co-edited about politics, culture and history in Tibet and Dharmasala, including the role of women. Proceeds from the books go to the Tibetan Education Fellowship that helps young Tibetan women go the the university.

HIV/AIDS WOMEN’S GROUP IN UGANDA

In Uganda, HIV/AIDS brings together a group of women. The disease affects them directly because they have it, or indirectly because their children have it, and they are widowed or single. Either way, they also are united in their desperate role as sole supporters of their families.

So they make beads — each one, hand-rolled from newspapers or magazines. The necklaces they make take a half-day from start to finish.

Last year, Luke Heneken and his mother, Peggy Doucette, spent an evening with the women in Uganda, where Luke was struck by the one-on-one connection. They brought 400 necklaces and bracelets back to Boise to sell at Dunia Marketplace.

“Dunia sells fair trade,” said Luke, a 17-year-old senior at Riverstone International School. “It’s a pretty unique connection from a pretty unique group in Uganda — all the way back to Boise, Idaho.”

Luke and his mother are the intermediaries; the money returns directly to the women who make the jewelry. In a heartfelt letter from the artisans’ organization, the director describes how the unexpected windfall was akin to a miracle for some women — coming just in the nick of time to keep children in school, pay medical and utility bills, buy food, pay off desperate debts.

“My favorite part is the connection,” Luke said. “That people in Idaho care enough to support a group of widows all the way in Kampala, Uganda.

(The artisans’ organization was called Dorcas Widows and is now Destiny Friends International.)

Katherine Jones: 377-6414

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