Carrie meets fair trade Swaziland

In June, Carrie from the Marketing Team at Traidcraft joined the Meet the People tour to Swaziland (now Eswatini). Often described as Africa-in-a-nutshell, Swaziland not only boasts incredible wildlife and spectacular scenery but also a thriving network of fair-trade producers. Carrie observed this phenomenal culture for herself and here she describes her experience meeting the people behind the traditional handicrafts of this tiny African kingdom.

‘Creative Swaziland. One of the smallest countries in the southern hemisphere but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in experiences.’ This was the description I read before the trip. “Sure, they all say that. Right?”

Swaziland

The experiences began on day one when we crossed the border from Johannesburg into Swaziland. The flat landscape immediately grew into mountainous valleys with rural charm. Every winding turn revealed more breath-taking views than the last and on our first night we were soothed to sleep by the sound of Phophonyane’s gushing waterfalls. Our accommodation throughout the trip was unique and diverse – we resided in comfortable tents, beehive huts and huts with no walls! Each had their own extraordinary appeal. We stayed inside safari parks amongst animals, watched warthogs warm by the fire, met rhinos, ate authentic food, star gazed and watched traditional dancing. One day-trip lead us to a rural village where we learned some conversational phrases to chat to the locals and were invited to listen to great stories, inside our guide’s homestead, about the culture of Swaziland.

RhinoThe unforgettable experiences were never ending, but the real purpose of my visit to Swaziland was to learn the stories behind the products and get a better understanding about fair trade and its effects in developing countries. It was incredible to see some of the products being made on some of our visits. We encountered great quality and imagination, exceptional skills, ingenuity, courage and determination.

IMG_0988 2On Day 3, the visit to Tintsaba was inspirational. To see the Sisal plant being stripped, washed, spun, dyed and woven into beautiful jewellery and homeware was fascinating. Over 800 women work for Tintsaba, often from their own homes whilst caring for their families. We learned how mohair is brushed, rolled and spun into yarn to make gorgeous fabrics at Coral Stephens; products that will last a lifetime and amazing skills that are being taught to younger generations.

Gone RuralOn Day 5 we visited Ngwenya Glass, who are renowned for their sustainable credentials. They considered every aspect of their business and reused or recycled everything they could. We met Black Mamba’s partner group, Guba, who teach permaculture and sustainable farming in village communities. All of the herbs and spices that are used in the sauces are grown by graduates of the Guba training courses. On Day 9 we met Gone Rural, who provide work to hundreds of women in the surrounding areas. They drive to and from each community collecting and swapping raw grass for dyed grass, for women to then weave into homewares for a fair price.

Guba

“It’s fascinating to see the incredible products made in Swaziland. The producers are so inventive, intuitive and efficient with the resources they have. I feel privileged to have met them. Swaziland, I hope to see you again.”

Carrie, Senior Graphic Designer at Traidcraft

If you’re interested in experiencing Creative Swaziland for yourself click here for more information or please call our office on 0191 265 1110 or email hannah@skedaddle.com

Phophonyane

Why Buy Fairtrade? Christine reports from Ghana

Christine joined our Meet the People Tour to Ghana with Traidcraft in November 2017. Combining her tour with an opportunity to visit her church’s Twinning Partners, Christine shares her experiences of meeting Fairtrade producers.

Picture1I have bought Fairtrade products for some time, and was interested to see how Fairtrade goods are produced, and to learn more about what Fairtrade means for individual producers. My Ghanaian friend Rev Josephine Mate-Kole Ankrah was interested too, and as I was visiting her congregation in Ghana, I thought a Meet the People Tour would be a good opportunity for us to visit some Fairtrade producers.

First of all we visited a group of cocoa farmers whose produce is used to make Divine Chocolate. Not only are these farmers paid a fair price for their cocoa beans (as you probably already know), but they also receive a Fairtrade premium. It was the use they made of this premium that was of real interest to me.

Cocoa farmers live in very rural areas, and we travelled a few hours along bumpy and windy roads to meet with them where they live and work. Working as a cooperative group, the farmers come together to agree what they will do with their Fairtrade premium. Usually they save it until there is sufficient money to do something that will make a real difference to their community. Their first priority is to improve the education of their children, through enhancing the education provided by the government. They have erected a solar light at the entrance to the school and put solar panels on the roof so that education need not stop when daylight ends. Currently they are saving to build a clinic and a house for a nurse, as their nearest clinic is a two hour drive away.

Divine ChocolateWe saw the current crop of cocoa beans drying in the sun ready to be packed into bags and sent on for processing (processing into chocolate that the farmers have never tasted!). They took us to visit one of the farms where we are able to harvest a pod from the tree, and to see how they work with their trees and crops.

One of the other organisations we visited was Global Mamas which concentrates on enhancing the lives of women in the community by providing them with training and opportunities for meaningful and sustainable livelihoods. They also invest money in business development, education, health, and life skills training. During our time with them we spent an afternoon cooking Ghanaian food and a morning making a batik tablecloth.

Ghana BatikThis is only a fraction of what we were able to see and experience during the 10 days of our Fairtrade experience. In returning to the question “why buy Fairtrade goods?”, after my visit I would say: to give individuals and communities the respect and dignity of a fair price for their products, which leads to life changing opportunities.

Many thanks to The Church of Scotland and to Christine Osman for sharing this article with us.

For more information on our trips to Ghana please call us on 0191 2651110, email us at info@skedaddle.com, or visit www.meetthepeopletours.co.uk/ghana

Ghana Top 9

Caroline Meets the People in Nepal

In March, Caroline and Kate from Traidcraft’s Digital Marketing and Product Development teams joined our Meet the People tour to the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. Here, Caroline tells us a little bit about the special places she visited, and the people she met…

I haven’t travelled all that much really. I’ve been around Europe and the US, but I’d never ventured across to Asia or Africa, and I’d always regretted not travelling more when I was younger and had fewer commitments. Though everything always seems easier in hindsight!

When the opportunity came up to go along on a Meet the People tour I was initially a little bit nervous. I didn’t really know what to expect on an organised tour – would I like it? What would my fellow travellers be like? The world is a huge place, and the range of countries and tours was mind-blowing – there’s so much to see and do!

But when I read the Nepal itinerary, something clicked. Starting in magical and vibrant Kathmandu, we’d travel west to relaxing Pokhara, south to the forested Chitwan National Park, and then east to watch the sunrise over the mountains from Dhulikhel, before returning again to Kathmandu. Everything would already be organised, and a local Newa: guide would be there to meet us and show us the real Nepal. I signed up, and before I knew it, I was on my way!

Nepal

Nepal is a country of colour, spirituality, and warm welcomes. Hardly a moment passed by when I didn’t have my camera in my hand, ready to take a quick snap of a golden temple, pagoda, or palace – not to mention the distant glint from snow-capped mountains, and the otherworldly lavender mist each morning at dawn. From feeding elephants and crocodile-spotting to listening to traditional folk musicians and seeing living heritage in action in old Bhaktipur – I can hardly believe all the different sights, experiences, and flavours I encountered.

Rice FieldsDuring the tour our group got to meet a range of traditional artisans, from paper-crafters and ceramicists to expert weavers and knitters. My job requires me to write about Traidcraft producers a lot, but it’s a completely different experience to visit them in person. The first group we visited was the Women’s Skills Development Organization in Pokhara. We were given a tour around the site and the chance to watch the artisans at work, from the spinning and dyeing to weaving and finishing. Since 1975, this not-for-profit programme has been supporting women facing significant social and economic hardships, offering them free training and employment opportunities in a social and safe environment.

Meeting PeopleNext, we visited Kumbeshwar Technical School (KTS), an inspirational organisation offering training and employment to craftspeople in Kathmandu. Since starting out, Kumbeshwar have set up a primary school to educate local disadvantaged children, and even an orphanage! It was incredibly moving to see how happy the children were and to hear stories about the craftspeople who started out with very little and ended up working for Kumbeshwar long-term, supporting families of their own with their income. We’ll be selling a few woven products from Kumbeshwar in our Autumn collection, so you can look forward to hearing lots more about this organisation.

GPI SchoolAnd of course, a trip to Nepal wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Get Paper Industries! Fair Traders and Retailers who’ve been with Traidcraft for even a little while will have heard of GPI – a handmade paper products co-operative which uses waste cotton, paper, and agricultural materials like banana fibre, straw, and water hyacinth to craft home accessories, gifts, cards, and packaging. We visited the artisans at work and visited the Anita Milan International Academy – set up with GPI’s aid to educate local children. Our welcome at GPI was phenomenal! I won’t spoil the surprise for any of you who visit in the future, but I’ll just say that it was an experience I’ll never forget.

PapermakingAnd finally, we visited the HQ of Mahaguthi, who market a range of handcrafted Nepalese wonders to the world. From weavers and embroiders to leather-workers and jewellery-makers, Mahaguthi offer traditional artisans a global audience for their heritage crafts. A highlight of the visit was meeting some of the traditional potters in their workshop on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

I returned to the UK at the end of March, and I’m still remembering all the places I went and the emotions I felt. Taking part on an organised tour meant I saw so much more than I would have going it alone, and I didn’t have to worry about the logistics of transport or finding somewhere to eat. It was wonderful to share the experience with so many different fellow travellers too, hearing different perspectives and stories along the way. Some of my group had been on lots of Meet the People Tours before – a sure sign that the tours all have something different to offer. I know if I get the opportunity to go on another tour I will. But the question now is, where to next…?

You can find more information on our tour to Nepal by downloading the tour dossier here. The tour dossier contains a day by day itinerary and more travel advice on the holiday.

MTP NepalTo browse the full range of Meet the People holidays have a look on our website www.meetthepeopletours.co.uk or order your copy of our brochure by clicking here. You can also call Hannah in the office on 0191 2651110 or email us at info@skedaddle.com if you have any questions or want to check availability on any of our departures.

Discovering fair trade in Sri Lanka

Following their tour earlier this year, David and Ann share with us their experiences of meeting the people in Sri Lanka 

What does fair trade look like at the sharp end where tea is picked, toys manufactured, and fabric woven? Who are the people who create the fair trade products we buy in our local fair trade shop and sell on the Saturday morning fair trade stall in our Church? What would it be like to meet them face to face and see their country through their eyes rather than through the eyes of the tourist?

Sri Lanka 03

These were some of the questions which prompted us to book for a Traidcraft ‘Meet the People’ Tour. We decided on the one to Sri Lanka because David had for many years wanted to find out about the land where his grandfather had been a missionary a hundred years ago. It proved to be absolutely the right decision as we explored this beautiful island meeting the people as well as visiting some of the places any visitor must see such as the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. We even spent half a day on a beach!

But for us fair trade was the priority. What did we learn about the process of producing the fair trade products we buy in the UK? We learned first of all, of course, that it is about work! We were familiar with the pictures of smiling workers standing in flourishing fields; and we found that they do smile! But they also have to work very hard, as we discovered when we visited the Greenfield Tea Estate where Ann tried her hand at tea picking. She says: “I was left full of admiration for the women working in quite difficult conditions on steep hillsides using their skill and knowledge and accepting the intruders we were with such grace”.

Ann picking tea

At the top of the hill where the tea bushes grow is the factory where the tea is processed, from the drying of the green leaves to getting the tea ready for dispatch. This estate is certified organic and fair trade and has recently created its own ‘Organic Life’ brand for sale in London and on the internet (http://www.organiclifeteas.com). Compared with the huge tea estates which cover the Sri Lankan hillsides as far as the eye can see, fair trade is only 2% of the Sri Lankan tea market, but this farm is a sign and symbol of what can be achieved when workers and management work together.

We had the privilege of meeting the ‘Joint Body’, which is elected by the workers and is made up of some twenty people, women and men, young and more mature, some well-educated and some who have had little educational opportunity. After they had greeted us with singing, dancing, and cake, we sat with them to hear about their life and achievements. We noted at the time that this is a ‘well-focused and thoughtful group of people’. They are certainly enterprising: with the fair trade premium (that bit extra we pay when we buy a fair trade item) they have built a substantial community centre, they support the community’s children in their education, and they plan to buy a bus which will run on the route to Colombo, some eight hours away, thus improving the bus service for the community whilst at the same time making a useful profit.

Continuing the theme of work, we made a number of factory visits where we were able to see how fair trade products are made and talk with leading people in each company.

At Selyn (www.selyn.lk) we were stunned by their beautiful colourful fabrics and toys – we bought table mats and David bought a shirt. Equally stunning is their close attention to caring for the environment (great care taken to render non-toxic the waste product of their dying plant) and their care of the workers (we saw the nursery where the children of the weavers are cared for and shared their excellent meal). We visited a huge warehouse now full of people working hard making toys, cushion covers, and much more. It was stifling and conditions seemed poor, but we learned that fair trade accreditation encourages firms constantly to improve their working practices and conditions will be transformed when they shortly move into a purpose-built air-conditioned factory.

Sri Lanka 01We could go on the write about: the compost coir block factory where the waste husks of coconuts are transformed into peat-free compost for UK gardens; the Maximus elephant dung factory where elephant dung comes in at one end and beautiful paper products come out of the other; and Ma’s Spice Factory where we saw the production process and sampled the end product when they served us lunch. They even persuaded us to try our hand at cooking!

So are we still fair trade enthusiasts? We certainly are! But of course there is a lot more to it than the brief explanation of the back of a packet of fair trade tea. We became aware of how much there is still to do to bring working and living standards to the level those of us who buy their products enjoy, and of the importance of the standards set by organisations like the World Fair Trade Organisation and Traidcraft in encouraging organisations to achieve their standards.

Sri Lanka 02Perhaps most of all, we became aware of the hard daily work done by thousands of people so that we can enjoy products so well-designed, well-made, and beautifully packaged that they are attractive to us in the West who have such a wide range of goods to choose from. It is certainly worth paying that bit extra to buy fair trade!

Our many thanks to David and Ann for sharing with us this article which was originally published in the Methodist Recorder

For more photos, information and a day by day itinerary on our tour to Sri Lanka visit our website at www.meetthepeopletours.co.uk/srilanka, call us in the office on 0191 2651110 or email us at info@skedaddle.com

Cocoa, Bananas and Palm Oil…

Meet the People travellers Arton and Christine tell us about their experiences during our wonderful tour in Ghana.

Ten degrees in Lancaster in mid November seems very cold a day after returning from Ghana where the midday maximum was over 30 degrees. We were part of a group of twelve people whose interest in fair trade had caused us all to use our holiday money on a Traidcraft  ‘Meet the People’ tour to Ghana visiting  growers of fair trade cocoa, palm oil and bananas.

Divine Chocolate

Within twenty four hours after landing in Manchester we were in the Parish Hall setting out the Traidcraft stall which sold cleaning products that used palm oil, and Divine chocolate made from the cocoa grown in the areas that we had just visited. The contrast in weather could be felt but the direct link between us and the producers also felt very strong.

The fortnight included visits to cultural centres and Kakum National Park, a cruise on Lake Volta, and an exposure to the barbarities of slavery – inland at Slave River, and on the coast at Elmina Castle where, branded and shackled, slaves were forcibly embarked on ships for their transatlantic voyage. These visits are all part of any tourist holiday in Ghana, but our main purpose was to meet people at work on their farms and processing plants, in towns and in villages to see how fair trade was helping them improve their quality of life.

Ghana Beach

The cocoa farmers we visited in Amankwaatia are all members of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative which has over 80,000 members and produces some 6% of Ghana’s cocoa. The farmers’ smallholdings are about eight acres (3.24ha) in area with about half growing food crops for subsistence and local markets, and the other half growing cocoa trees. When asked what was the main benefit of belonging to a Fairtrade group the answer was that they had been able to build  a school in the village so the children did not have to walk a long way to school.

Serendipalm bags

In the different areas that we visited we saw other schools built from the Fairtrade Premium which is an additional sum of money on top of the minimum price of the product. It is the people themselves who decide how this premium will be spent. There were also new boreholes providing the clean water which was head-loaded in large metal bowls (wider than the shoulders of the teenager carrying them) from the pump back to their home. Improvements to clinics and health services in the villages were other areas chosen for communal benefit.

The palm oil producers farmed in a similar co-operative structure to Kuapa Kokoo and we saw the processing plant on a dark wet evening with smoke and steam from the wood-fired boilers providing scenes reminiscent of a stage-set for Hades.

VREL

We also saw banana processing, and a secondary school built with Fairtrade premium funds. The Fairtade banana growing is large scale with four sites cultivating 600 acres (approx 250ha) of bananas and producing 5000 to 6000 tons of bananas a year. The growing and processing is meticulous with the workers even having pillows on their shoulders so as not to bruise the stems  of bananas as they carry them to the conveyor system.

Trashy Bags Sewing

Other producers we visited included Trashy Bags, who made all sorts of goods from plastic bags, Cedi beads making bangles and necklaces from local materials, and Global Mamas which sells beautiful printed materials and clothing produced by women in their own homes.

So back to the Autumn Sale where by buying fairly traded products from the Craft Aid or ESME stalls (over £700 was taken on the day) you will have helped people much less well off than we are. By continuing to use fair trade goods in your regular shopping throughout the year you can make a real difference to people’s lives.

For more information on our tour to Ghana click here, call Hannah in the office on 0191 2651110 or email us at info@skedaddle.com

Thailand: A Postcard

A Fairtrader for over twenty years, Julie Miles often found herself reading about other people’s Meet The People holidays. She and her husband David longed to sign up for a tour, and after years of aspiring- they finally did it! Here she shares her unforgettable memories of our Thailand tour. 

Visiting silk producers in Ban No Pho:
Including spending the night in a chalet in the grounds of their enterprise. The project was led by an energetic and inspirational lade who is passionate about providing work for women in the area. Watching the women work as they prepared orders was fascinating.

silkAn evening visit to a temple:
It was magnificent and looked particularly beautiful in the evening sunlight. A peaceful time allowing us to reflect on the amazing things we had seen and experienced.

templeThe day spent with Tui & Brian on their organic rice farm:

Here we experienced working in the paddy fields and collecting giant snails which hold protect the rice plants. Fortunately, we didn’t eat snails! We also spent some time with local school children who showed us how to make table decorations from flowers and fruit.

Tui Brian

Our day with elephants:
Such an exhilarating experience being so close to these magnificent, clever animals with their amazing trunks. David also enjoyed learning how to make paper from elephant dung… an amazingly non-smelly process!

elephants

“We visited so many places which ordinary tourists would not have even known existed. We feel really privileged to have been able to have such wonderful experiences and now feel we’re in a better position to talk about the ins and outs of fair trade.”

You can find out more information about our tour to Thailand on our holiday page by clicking here.

For any questions and to check availability you can call Hannah in the office on 0191 2651110 or you can email us at info@skedaddle.com.

Vietnam: A behind-the-scenes look

Gateway World Shop’s Manager, and member of the BAFTS Board, Hazel Dobson, signed up for a Traidcraft Meet the People Tour to Vietnam last Autumn. She had previously visited Peru and Kathmandu on producer trips and thought her gallivanting days were over! She opted for Vietnam as it was a challenge for her to find out about a country which she had only ever associated with a horrific war in the 1960s, when she was a teenager. It was somewhere she would otherwise never had thought of visiting.

The visit was almost three weeks in total, with internal flights, two long road journeys, and two by river. The tour covered almost the entire country in that space of time (the bright orange country on the map). Vietnam is a long thin country with its Eastern coast bordering what the Vietnamese call the Indo-China Sea. It was a French colony from the middle of the 1800s and the people suffered a lot under the French. Vietnam is now a Communist Country -this was the reason for the Americans entering the war in the 1960s. Hazel was rarely aware of this fact on her visit, as visitors are very well catered for. Half the current population of 90 million is under the age of 25. Vietnam aspires to be a first-world country, and has good trade relations with Australia, but Russia is never mentioned. It seems to have a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, and veneration of dead relatives as its main religions.

Her tour embraced many stops, including Hanoi (North), the capital City, Hoi An (about halfway down the country) and Saigon (in the South). Vietnam was very green and agriculture appeared good, with an abundance of fish and prawns. Livestock at local markets was still “on the hoof” alongside a never-ending array of noodles!

In terms of suppliers, the visitors went to see “Craft Link“, one of Traidcraft‘s suppliers, with over 40 artisan groups and around 5,000 artisans in the North of Vietnam. They work with many minority groups, (about 12% of the population) and a few traditional tribes who have been left behind as the economy improved. Typical crafts include lacquer works involving crushed egg shells, from designs created from the artisans’ own imagination or memory, or carving mother-of-pearl shells for the inlay.  This long process is repeated many times, dipped in lacquer, dried then rubbed smooth.

Some entire villages make furniture from bamboo, and smoke the wood first to harden it. Craft Link supports this industry by giving training in marketing their products, which are for local markets, not for export.

There were also visits to a social enterprise in the city of Hue, in which Traidcraft has had some input. It provides work opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged young people. One particular project stood out in Hoi, a fair trade project called “Reaching Out” for severely disabled young adults, many of whom were deaf-mute, and a silent tea room. This project has concentrated on marketing themselves locally and with great success. They produce bedding, tableware, woven and metal goods and more.

The tour included Mai Handicrafts, a Traidcraft supplier, and visiting some crocheting projects, in Central and Southern Vietnam. They saw workers packaging items and doing quality checks at Mai Handicrafts, as well as creating recycled paper products, although there was some doubt as to whether this project would be sustainable in the long-term.  All in all, there were some excellent social enterprises and fair trade businesses doing their best to keep traditional skills alive and work with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of their society.

Our next tour to Vietnam will be departing next November. Click here for more details or contact us in the office for more information and to check availability. You can call Hannah on 0191 2651110 or email us at info@skedaddle.com

Postcards from Western India

Penny and Dan joined a Meet the People Tour to Western India in February 2014, calling in at Mumbai, Kutch, Jaipur, and Delhi to name just a few! 

Here’s their five most memorable moments of the trip:

1. Lunch with a cotton farmer and his extended family on their farm in rural Kutch. We were greeted with music and flowers and treated as honoured guests, which made us feel humble.

Visiting St Mary's producers2. The opportunity and privilege to be welcomed by women embroiderers into their own homes in the poorer districts of Ahmedabad and Bhuj. It was a unique chance to compare our lives with theirs, to find out what is different in the way they live, and what is the same.

3. The holiday included not only the world famous tourist sights of the Taj Mahal and Jaipur’s Amber Fort, but also guided tours well off the well-worn tourist trail, along the back streets and slums of Mumbai, Agra and Ahmedabad. An endless supply of temples and monuments, cities and villages.

Group at Taj Mahal

4. Travelling by train, auto-rickshaw, and elephant through the most spectacular and diverse country in the world. Every second was spent gazing out of the window at something new and amazing (note, the elephant did not have windows!)

Painted elephant at amber fort nr Jaidpur

5. The many new friends we were reluctant to leave behind, and the new friends we brought back with us.

On their return, Dan and Penny created this short piece with video and images from their trip. We hope you will enjoy watching it as much as we did!

Find more details about our tour of Western India click here. Alternately contact Hannah in the office on 0191 2651110 or email info@skedaddle.com for an update on availability and more information.

Shop till you drop in Vietnam

Our tour in Vietnam is packed full of character and charm, so it’s great to see this tour featured  in a double page spread in The Guardian, thanks to journalist Liz Boulter. Didn’t manage to grab yourself a copy? Here’s a preview below…

Mai Chau paddy fields

It started with a tiny ceramic teapot and that led to a lacquered bamboo dish in a bright abstract pattern, then a hand-woven scarf. It was just the start of my tour of Vietnam, and I was already hooked.

I am not usually a shopaholic, but here not only did the prices appeal to my Yorkshire sensibilities – none of the above items cost more than £2 – but I could convince myself that this retail therapy was doing some good. There’s all sorts of tat on sale to tourists in Vietnam, much of it made in China. But I knew my spending would make a difference to local lives because I was on holiday with an organisation which makes that its mission.

Traidcraft, the people behind the British catalogues and gift shops, has teamed up with cycling-holiday operator Saddle Skedaddle (one of its founders used to work for Traidcraft) to offer trips to the developing countries the charity sources its wares from. The idea of Traidcraft’s “Meet the People” holidays (there’s no cycling on this particular trip) was to give people who were already part of the fair-trade movement – volunteering in shops, running stalls – the chance to see where products originated.

Even for those who’ve never been near a fairly traded fruit bowl, the tours offer a unique perspective, on people and cultures as well as sightseeing. (They also run trips in other Asian countries, and in Africa and Latin America.) Plus you get to shop till you drop, and feel good about it.

My teapot and dish came from a showroom in Hanoi run by Craft Link, a non-profit organisation that works with 60 artisan groups in northern Vietnam. Over tea and little cakes upstairs, we heard from manager Ms Tran and younger Ms Thuy all about its work finding markets for handicrafts as a way of keeping traditions alive and alleviating poverty. It’s not charity: they help groups for a couple of years, with training and financial support. And they always work with women.

Then we were let loose in the shop: our group of 15 Brits snapped up silk purses and scarves, bags, ceramics and jewellery. There was still more than two weeks of the tour left, but hey, a gorgeous little brooch won’t take up much room…

Want to find out more? Click here to read Liz’s article in full.

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Navigating Nepal…

Meet the People traveller Judy Dixey headed to Nepal to discover the rich treasures and fascinating local culture that await those who venture here…

Many people dream of going to Nepal – some were dreaming when they were actually there, on the hippie trail in the ‘60s; some dream about trekking in the magnificent Himalayas or even taking a flight over Everest; some dream of finding themselves, or their god – Buddha was born in this kingdom at the top of world.

I was privileged to try out a very different kind of Nepal on a trip organised by Saddle Skedaddle on behalf of Traidcraft. Traidcraft is an essentially Christian organisation whose mission is to reduce poverty through trade. It is active in various developing countries throughout the world, empowering people to take control of their lives through working to produce goods which can be traded in the West – whether it’s food, crafts, clothes or homeware. All are produced under at least as good conditions as those demanded under Fair Trade regulations.

Our visit was entitled ‘Meet the People’ who are involved with Fair Trade and Traidcraft; and so we did. We met an inspirational man who’s at the forefront of an organisation – Get Paper Industries – which has drawn disadvantaged women into employment, making hand-made paper, or felt objects. We visited as they were working on a line of paper containers for The Body Shop; so when you next buy items from there, do take note of the little boxes they are packed in – they will probably come from Nepal. He also had the heart and wisdom to see that girls’ education is essential (currently 34% of girls in Nepal do NOT go to school) and to devise schemes to ‘trick’ that caste-based society to ‘Send your daughter to school’. The scheme is to pay 100 rupees (approx 75p) a week to the lower-caste families when their daughter goes to school; this encourages other higher caste families to feel they might be missing out. The notion of ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ works in Nepal too, so they send their daughters as well.

The company is also active in AIDS awareness, and it is also environmentally aware, so any machinery used is powered by solar energy.

Women at GWP

There is a major issue of young women being trafficked to India for the sex trade; GPI has initiated self-governing networks of girls to confront this issue – over 100 groups now exist of 15 girls, who can guard against the traffickers’ empty temptations of a better life elsewhere, through mutual support and information. They are also provided with the means of earning income and preventing their fathers or brothers from selling them to traffickers – they might be given a goat, which will have kids, and more kids; the goat is a speciality meat at festivals, so is highly valued. We met one such group in the back of beyond, up the most appalling track, which was only passable by jeep or on foot. The girls were meeting together, minuting their discussions and decisions and earning respect from the villagers round about.

GPI Anita Milan School

Our next visit in Pokhara was to the Women’s Skills Development Project, founded by Ram Kali Khadka in 1975. Over 11,000 women have benefitted from her energy and actions and the two shops on the Lake Side Road are packed with imaginative craft work from the 435 current members. They are learning skills such as dyeing, weaving and sewing; some of these are skills we lost 100, 150 or even 200 years ago; but they are useful skills in the context of the country as it is. How could you expect them to be learning IT skills, when there are constant power cuts, and the lighting is barely good enough to read by at night? Of the 435 women working for the Project, some are home workers; 35 are disabled, of whom 11 are blind.

We certainly filled our suitcases with masses of beautifully-made imaginative presents for home and families, very useful as we come up to Christmas.

But the trip wasn’t all serious visits to these projects. There was plenty of time to visit and admire a fraction of the temples and shrines for which Kathmandu has obtained the deserved soubriquet of City of Temples. We also described it as City of Chaos as the traffic is terrifying, there are no traffic lights and policemen in the middle of the road wave and blow whistles to gain some sort of order. Amazingly, we saw no accidents, and drivers squeeze their battered vehicles through tiny spaces, demonstrating significant skill and nerve. Everyone who is not in a battered vehicle is on a motorbike; usually the driver wears the helmet, while the pillion rider takes her life in her hands and doesn’t. Cows, dogs and chickens wander across the road with impunity and somehow survive. The potholes are such that I’ll never complain about those in Britain again!

We also travelled to the Chitwan National Park, where we saw rhino, elephants and deer; at one point a family of wild boar had an argument and charged across our path. We had a highly knowledgeable guide, Kumar, whose wild-life life had begun with 9 years in tiger conservation, and despite no formal education, had accumulated a wealth of knowledge to share.

Nagarkot

And of course, we did get up to see the sunrise. Rosy-fingered dawn did tip the peaks of the Himalayas in front of us, a few minutes before the sun itself actually appeared above the horizon. What an astounding experience.

Our guide, Prajol, had worked with Traidcraft and Skedaddle to ensure we had as rounded a view of Nepal as could be gained in the space of just under two weeks – and many of us have come back with a feeling of sensation- and emotion- overload which will take some time to unpack and process. There is no doubt that there is masses to do there, the infrastructure militates against swift improvement in living conditions, as does the Hindu acceptance of life as it is. But it is better to light a candle than rail against the darkness and that is what I did, in the Mahabuddha, the abode of a thousand Buddhas, in thanks for our visit and as a prayer for peace and enlightenment.

To see more photos visit ICN’s Facebook Page

Many thanks to Judy Dixey for this article and to the Independent Catholic News for allowing us to reproduce it here. To see the original article please click here

If you would like any further information about our tours to Nepal with Traidcraft then please click here. Alternatively, please call Hannah at Skedaddle on 0191 2651110 or email us at info@skedaddle.com.