by: Lauren Parnell Marino
Friday is an important day of the week for the artisans of Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd. Every Friday, artisans gather outside of the small office of Uganda Crafts, just outside of downtown Kampala. They come carrying their work from the week: a collection of beautiful baskets, handmade jewelry, or musical instruments. Friday is the day that a week of work turns itself into an income; the day that a community comes together to plan for the week ahead, and to gossip about the week past. For many of the artisans involved with Uganda Crafts, Friday is the best day of the week.
Milly is one of the artisans who arrive early every Friday morning at Uganda Crafts. She is a single mother of four children and lives in a nearby suburb of Kampala. Milly is an expert basket weaver, and has been weaving since she was a young teenager. She also serves as a trainer, and gives informal advice to other artisans on a weekly basis and also teaches new people how to weave during workshops that Uganda Crafts organizes. Recently separated from her husband, Milly works hard to provide for her family on the income she earns from her baskets. Her work has enabled her to build a new house and to send each of her school-aged children to school. She is extremely proud of these accomplishments, and she exudes confidence and playfulness to everyone she meets.
Milly’s story is unique, but it reflects the influence that Uganda Crafts has had on the lives of its artisans. Uganda Crafts began in 1983, the brainchild of Betty Kinene and Marilyn Dodge. Betty, a Ugandan businesswoman and Marilyn, an American UNICEF volunteer, teamed up to create jobs for the disabled and underprivileged in Ugandan society. Disabled herself, Betty provided early leadership and business savvy, enabling Uganda Crafts to become the first craft shop of its kind in Uganda. During the 1990’s, Uganda Crafts’ reputation grew, and it began to work with fair trade partners such as Ten Thousand Villages. In 2000, Uganda Crafts became a for-profit company and changed its name to Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd. Already operating under fair trade principles, Uganda Crafts became a certified fair trade organization in 2006 by the International Fair Trade Association (now the World Fair Trade Organization).
Today, Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd. continues to be a leader in the industry. The organization adheres to a guiding philosophy: creating jobs for the disadvantaged, training groups in craft production, encouraging innovation and creativity, preserving traditional African cultures through crafts, creating quality products, and adhering to fair trade standards. Betty Kinene remains the Managing Director and driving force behind the good work of Uganda Crafts.
Awava is proud to partner with Uganda Crafts and to support the work of this women-powered business. With the economy slipping globally, both the local market and export market for Ugandan handicrafts have dropped. In recent months, Uganda Crafts has been struggling to give the artisans enough work to sustain themselves financially. The partnership with Awava will bring more orders and more income to artisans during a difficult time. But Awava is also benefiting, by having the privilege of selling colorful handmade baskets and unique jewelry.
With the support of Awava and other fair trade groups, Uganda Crafts 2000 Ltd. will make it through the economic crisis and will continue to thrive. It will do this while simultaneously encouraging the preservation of cultural art and bringing income to disadvantaged artisans from all around Uganda. And, with Milly’s help, the people of Uganda Crafts will manage to do all of these things with a smile.