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Celebrating the World’s Artisans and the Power of Shopping for Good
We celebrate the talented makers who create everything from one-of-a-kind pieces of fine art to clothing lines and home decor that lend beauty and style to everyday essentials. On World Creativity and Innovation Day, we reserve special thanks for the artisans of UNICEF Market.
Their commitment to their craft uplifts their communities by preserving invaluable cultural and artistic traditions and creating jobs that support families in some of the very places where UNICEF works. A portion of proceeds from products they sell also supports UNICEF's lifesaving programs that help the most vulnerable children in the countries where they live.
A better world for artisans is a better world for all.
Here, meet a few of these talented sculptors, weavers, textile artists and silversmiths and learn more about how they and UNICEF are making the world a better place.
West African wood carver Ernestina Oppong Asante (seated, above right) started out selling her traditional African drums, masks and sculptures along the roadside in her native Ghana. But today, thanks to her creations' brisk online sales through UNICEF Market and other platforms, she now owns a shop. She has also realized another lifelong dream: a house of her own and education for all her children.
Asante embodies the resilience and versatility that has helped sustain artisans as they grow their small businesses against the odds. Trained as a dressmaker, she realized that there wasn't a market for her goods, so, defying stereotypes and gender barriers, she turned her attention to sculpture, an artform in greater demand.
"Carving has long been regarded as the preserve of men," explains Asante. "I'm glad that I have been able to infiltrate the medium but also to make an impact on the trade."
The impact her business has had on her village is notable as well. Asante now employs other carvers, including her husband Daniel Asante (seated, above center) who is a UNICEF Market artisan in his own right. Building on her success, Asante has even returned to her textile roots — creating intricate threadwork pieces featuring Adinkra and Sankofa symbols, as her homage to the Akan-speaking peoples of southern Ghana and its neighbor to the west, Côte d’Ivoire.
Recently, Ghana made history when it received the first UNICEF delivery of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility. Beginning what promises to be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history, the shipment went straight to frontline health workers who have been battling the country's recent coronavirus surge. The shipment was timely for a country where COVID-19 seemed to be tightening its grip. In February, in West and Central Africa, Ghana saw the second highest number of coronavirus cases.
To create traditional Balinese jewelry, Indonesian artisan Komang Wijayana (above) deploys fire, raw materials native to his home in Indonesia and the patience he learned from watching his own parents, who have been working in silver and gold as master jewelers since 1982. There is a deep cultural history attached to Wijayana's jewelry line, which draws from Bali's ancient tradition of intricate filigree and the inspiration of the artist's natural surroundings.
"When I was ten years old, my parents told me to learn about silver jewelry because someday, when I got older, I'd be able to make a living from this skill,” recalls Wijayana. “They taught me everything. Their love for their work made me love this world of jewelry.”
Wijayana's birthplace in Celuk is considered a mecca of silversmithing. But since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, his country has earned another dire distinction. Of all Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia has been hit the hardest by COVID-19 and the children have not been spared. Kids under 18 make up 12.2 percent of confirmed cases and 1.2 percent of deaths. While the pandemic's shocks have affected people of all ages, children and adolescents have been hit especially hard by falling household incomes.
But there are hopeful signs: After a January-February surge, case numbers declined in March, as did deaths, and on March 6, 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived via the COVAX Facility. UNICEF is aiding the rollout of the national vaccination campaign, helping to train health workers and supporting water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools so that children can begin focusing again on what’s most important: learning.
Meena Ughrejia (above) grew up in Chandigarh, India, watching her mother create beautiful patchwork quilts from the family's old clothes and fabric swatches they had around the house. She couldn’t help but learn the art, and when she got older and married a man whose family had turned this traditional craft into a thriving business, she vowed to hone her skills.
She and her husband began building their own business and as the popularity of their designs grew, so did their operation. They took on more employees and offered work to other artisans in their community when larger orders started to come in.
Most of the fabric they use comes from Gujarat and Delhi. But they also source fabrics from a women's group that goes door to door collecting clothes in exchange for new utensils — a common practice in India’s small towns that lends meaning to Meena’s work:
"What I love about my art is the coming together of colorful patches into one single panel – it's like putting together dreams of many women who once wore the garments. This shows that tradition never dies."
Such traditions have offered comfort in India since the coronavirus pandemic began. India is second only to the U.S. in number of confirmed cases — 31.4 million as of April 15 — with 173,123 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. To make ends meet, many poor families turn to child labor or leave their children in the care of others while they migrate in search of work. In addition, over 20 million children have suffered through floods, drought, cyclones and other hazards that are exacerbating underlying vulnerabilities.
Since the pandemic began, UNICEF has shared information on how to stay safe from the coronavirus with more than 650 million children and their families and reached over 3.1 million people across the country with critical water, sanitation and hygiene supplies and services. And on January 16, nearly one year after India reported its first case, a 34-year-old sanitation worker at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), became the first person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. So began India's largest vaccine drive and its journey on the road to recovery from a pandemic that has touched millions of lives.
In the Maya language, K'amolon K'i K'ojonel means "Let's get together." It is also the name of an association founded in 1987 to provide assistance and support to women in Sololá whose husbands died during Guatemala's armed conflict.
Since its founding, K'amolon K'i K'ojonel (above) has grown from a noble intention to a thriving association run by women for women who all make their living — and beautiful handwoven accessories — using the traditional backstrap loom. The collective pursues a mission neatly expressed by its motto: "Weaving a Better World." Every day, its 200 members do just that as they preserve a traditional art form that supports their families and produces richly colored hand-dyed scarves, bags, and wraps treasured worldwide.
Artisans from Guatemala like the women of K'amolon K'i K'ojonel have been sorely tested since the pandemic began. But even before COVID-19 hit, the countries of Central America already faced significant humanitarian needs related to people migrating to flee violence, internal displacement, food insecurity and poverty. It's estimated that the pandemic could push 10 million additional people into poverty, leaving millions of children dependent on humanitarian assistance.
UNICEF is now working to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of people — families and children who are on the move and those struggling to survive COVID-19's impacts at home. UNICEF is also focused on getting children safely back to school, providing nutritional support and the necessary sanitation and hygiene services and supplies to allow children, families and frontline health workers to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19.
To the artisans whose livelihoods have suffered this past year and to the children their UNICEF Market sales help support, your purchase matters — today and every day.
Top photo: Mayra Leticia Hernandez (above with her son) learned how to weave growing up in San Antonio Palopó, Guatemala, from her mother, who created beautiful textiles on a backstrap loom.