Guest Post: Building a Global Neighborhood, by Global Artisans

Global Artisans is a Utah Nonprofit with a mission to empower US-based refugee entrepreneurs to achieve self-sufficiency through training, education, and the production and sale of handmade goods.

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“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Many Americans rallied behind these words in the wake of the executive ordered ‘travel ban’ earlier this year. Whatever your feelings about the United States taking in refugees, resettlement is one step in a very long journey. Starting with the traumatic experience of fleeing persecution, to the tumultuous road to a refugee camp where most spend their entire lives, to the extensive process of applying to resettlement, a small percentage set out to build a lives as New Americans.

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Global Artisans is concerned with the last leg of this journey. We aim to make the transition to American life easier through flexible economic opportunity, and to advocate for the thousands of stories of tragedy, trauma, hope, and triumphs of the human spirit that walk among us. We believe the two most important determinants of a refugee’s success are having a job and a friend, but many barriers exist for both of these things.

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First, the job. Learning the language and customs of their new country is crucial to refugees’ economic success, and other service providers in our community do great work in this area. Yet for many, a full-time job is difficult or impossible to manage. Global Artisans offers two remedies with our Crafters and Creators programs. A Crafter starts out by learning how to use a sewing machine and making simple projects, starting with our upcycled tote bag. Global Artisans acts as the buyer and assumes the risk of selling products to consumers. Crafters maintain their autonomy and independence; they can work from home or on site, and are never obligated by any production quota. With their newfound skills and confidence, they may decide to enter the Creators program. Here they design and make their own products and sell them through their own efforts (you may have seen some of our current Creators out at events like World Refugee Day) and can sell through the Global Artisans platform on consignment. We also provide business training to help them build their business outside of the Global Artisans ecosystem. The end result is a program that lowers common barriers to economic participation and encourages entrepreneurship by creating a marketplace that features these amazing artisans.

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Connecting to the “mainstream” community (the word used in our circles to describe native-born Americans) is crucial to refugees’ integration. Our artisans build relationships with our volunteers and with each other, but their place in American life is fraught with misunderstanding and/or an inability to connect. We get that; time and money are finite, and there is too much information to learn and too many causes to care for that we can only focus on a few in our already busy lives. Though we aim to educate the public on refugee-centered issues, real connection is created from empathy, not sympathy. That’s why each product comes with a bio card that tells the inspiring story of the person who made it and a handwritten note. We work with each artisan to tell the story that they are comfortable with, trying not to overemphasize the trauma, rather the struggle to overcome and the courage to dream. These are the stories we can all relate to and can cut through misunderstanding and lack of familiarity. Also, you’re supporting their entrepreneurial ventures, so it’s a win-win!

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We are not naive in thinking these goals will ever be fully realized. Our programs may allow some to rise above the poverty, but we are just as happy to be a stepping stone to bigger and better opportunities. Our advocacy efforts aim to correct misconceptions and promote understanding, but are unlikely to eradicate bigotry. However, if we can provide just one opportunity where there was otherwise none, if we can help just one artisan to make a living off of their craft, and if we can make just one person feel compassion for another from a different background, we will have made a difference and accomplished our mission.

Read the stories of our artisans and shop handmade goods from refugees in Salt Lake at globalartisans.us.

Guest PostRobbie Collett