Women’s Day 2014 Guest Blogger – Ms. Kerry Evans, Designer at SERRV, Wisconsin, USA

A multifaceted personality – self-taught weaver, textile artist, designer, teacher and author of 2 hand-woven clothing design books.  She has been involved with the product and economical development for the past 25 years and also a world traveler. She calls Madison, Wisconsin as her home.

Thank you Ms. Evans for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with your this gesture.

Over to Ms. Evans…………

INSPIRING CHANGE through education and creativity can bring forth a world of empowerment and dignity in women to achieve social, economic and political opportunities.  I applaud all the incredible work being done by so many organizations and communities to bring these basic fundamental rights into the lives of women of all nationalities across the globe.

In thinking about what I would write today in honor of International Women’s Day,with the theme of INSPIRING CHANGE, made me reflect back on all the women I have met who have inspired change not only within their lives,  families and communities but within me as well.  So many of the women mentioned have been instrumental in the direction I have taken with my life and work.   Some names I no longer remember but their actions on a grass root level are still inspiring and unforgettable.   For many,change was essential in order to survive. 

In 1990, Berta, a young single mother and farm union organizer from southwest Colombia, was killed at her farm in front of her young son by a group of masked men.  She was trying to bring the farmers together so they had a voice during a very violent period in Colombia’s history.  Her death inspired the community to unite and fight for their rights.

During the same time, I met another young Colombian woman horrified by the amount of plastic waste in her community.  She organized collections of the waste and with the help of her family, started a recycled plastic tubing company which eventually sold tubing throughout the State of Cauca.  She was one of the first entrepreneurial  women I met who successfully turned waste into a business which employed many in her community and helped the environment in which they lived.

I was fortunate to have been introduced to Hmong women refugees who had recently arrived in US.  Along with the Milwaukee Area Technical School, an English as a Second Language Program and the Lutheran Church who sponsored them, I taught these women to weave and sell liturgical products through an organization called Multiweave.  Later, many of these women continued to work with me in another organization I co-founded called Silk For Life Project.  Silk for Life was a not for profit organization which offered silk production as an alternative to cocaine in southwest Colombia.   Silk for Life organized and supported women cooperatives by processing and spinning cocoons into hand-spun and reeled silk.    The silk was imported to the US and woven into products at the Silk for Life Workshop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Working with the Hmong women was truly an inspiring experience.   Forced to leave their lives in Laos and journey on to the US with nothing but a few belongings told a story of incredible strength and courage going against so many odds and unknowns. 

Having lived in Guatemala for seven years, I experienced again the strength of the indigenous rural women who had suffered through a long civil war and lived through one of the worst genocide atrocities in the history of Guatemala.  I worked for an alternative trade catalog company called Pueblo to People.  Many women were widows who worked and supported one another by organizing into handicraft cooperatives.  One of the basket groups I respected the most lived far up in the mountains and walked nearly five hours one way to bring me their basket order.   The group leader could write and would present me a list of the women’s’ names.  At the top of the page were drawings of the different baskets they had made.  I would check the number of each style and pay the weaver in cash.  This was their system.  This was the only cash they had which was not in their pocket long.  It was always market day when we met and off they would go to make their purchases.  Every three or four weeks we met under the big tree at the foot of the mountain.

For the past thirteen years, I have worked for SERRV International, a Fair Trade handicraft catalog. The number of countries I now work in has expanded as have the artisan groups but the story of each women’s cooperative remains the same – strength and unity to help provide for better lives for their families and communities.  And through this unity comes dignity and empowerment.   More children are going to school, more clinics are being built and more international projects are involved in aiding communities and countries who are in dire need of help in many areas. 

A few years ago, I was working with the soapstone carvers near Kisii, Kenya.  One of the leaders of the group told me that women and their daughters had to walk daily three hours down the mountain to get water and another three hours to carry the water back up.  He said if there was a well in a central location the women would not have to carry water that far each day.   David said “Kerry, can you help us to get funding to build a well?”  A sum of $350 financed three wells,each dug literally by hand with a motor pumping  water into the containers of waiting women.  That very small donation of money changed the lives of so many women who, for hundreds of years walked down that mountain with their water containers.

My last story is about a group of Rwandan women.  Many were widows, returning back to their homeland after spending years living in the Congo as refugees following the Rwanda Genocide in which 500,000 to 1,000,000 people were killed in a 100 day period in 1994.  SERRV was introduced to this group of basket weavers through Engineers Without Borders and in 2007. I and another staff person visited the women of JyambereMutegarugori and began our partnership with them.  One of my most joyous memories is when I saw how the women had in four short years transformed themselves from very poor, shy basket weavers into radiant, powerful women who can now support their families, put their children through school, build new roofs on their houses and have cows in their fields. 

With INSPIRING CHANGE on a grass roots level, the only direction is upwards. 

– Kerry Evans


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