Tag Archives | Fair Trade

Just back from Morocco

I just returned from another trip to Morocco, visiting our cooperative, artisans, the High Atlas Foundation, and several cities.

Here, a few snapshots from my visit. More details soon!

xx
Katharine

Moroccan school children with new bathroom at schoolhouse Moroccan school children, with a new bathroom at their schoolhouse, thanks to Kahina contributions to High Atlas Foundation and local community support

Essaouira Archway Beachy, blue Essaouira

Prickly Pear Cactus by Katharine L'Heureux Prickly Pear Cacti are in full bloom this time of year

Katharine smiling in red shawl in Morocco Soaking up the late afternoon Moroccan sun

The Power of an Image

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In this age of the ever-present selfie, it is hard to imagine a world where many people have never even seen a photograph of themselves. This is often the case in the remote villages of rural Morocco. Sharing my photos with the women and children on my visits has been a great source of entertainment for all of us, especially seeing the young girls and boys striking poses and racing back to me to look immediately in the view finder, then demanding more while jockeying for a prominent position in the group photo. Seeing the young women carefully analyze their photos is fascinating to me. I can’t imagine being so unfamiliar with my own image, but with mirrors and glass windows a rarity, these girls rarely even see a reflective surface. Far from disliking their photos because of an unflattering angle, as we are so ready to do, these girls typically respond with peals of laughter.

I recently had the honor of an introduction to Heather Binns, a talented photographer volunteering for an organization called Prints for Prints. Prints for Prints reminds me of the value of the family photograph. From the Prints for Prints website:

A family photograph is a precious thing to many of us, and especially to people who live in rural areas and often do not have a record of their children or elders. Prints for Prints creates makeshift studios in rural villages, working with local student photographers when possible, for the purpose of donating prints to those who do not have photographs of their loved ones.

Heather will be traveling to Morocco in February. It gives me great pleasure to sponsor her work with Kahina’s charitable partners, the High Atlas Foundation and Education for All, Morocco, where she will document their work and donate prints to families and the girls in the boarding home to send home to their loved ones. I hope you will join us in following Heather on her journey via instragram @heathre. We look forward to sharing some of her photos here.

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Kahina throw rugs hand-loomed by the women of Kahina in Morocco


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In May of 2011, on a trip to visit my argan supplier in a remote village high in the Mid-Atlas Mountains, I was shown the weaving cooperative in the village, where the women who crack the nuts for our argan oil were learning to weave rugs as a way to make extra money. The following year, Kahina donated money to buy sheep in order that the women would have wool to use for their weaving. In 2013, on a return trip to the village, I was presented with a beautiful hand-loomed rug decorated with the Kahina circle and star graphic. My rug has lived beside my bed warming my feet and heart ever since.

Kahina Berber Rug

 

Earlier this year, I asked the women to weave me more rugs exactly like the one they presented to me three years ago. I am thrilled to now offer these exclusively on givingbeauty.com. SHOP NOW.

Each 2’ x 4’ rug is hand-loomed using virgin sheep’s wool and natural dyes by the Berber women of the weaving cooperatives who also do the work of cracking the nuts for our argan oil.

FIT presents MADE IN AFRICA

Made in Africa Invite

Mark your calendars: Katharine L’Heureux, Kahina founder, will be speaking on a panel at EcoSessions: Made in Africa hosted by Magnifeco at FIT.

EcoSessions have two goals – one to build community and share stories within the design industry and the other to educate consumers through storytelling. For this event, 12 panelists will talk about the benefits and challenges of producing (sustainably) in Africa in three arenas: beauty, accessories and fashion. Hear Katharine representing Kahina Giving Beauty on the beauty panel with The Body Shop, Tiossan and Rain Africa as they discuss the hows and why they love making beauty products with ingredients from African countries.

EcoSessions are free and open to all; we hope to see you there!  Register here.

DATE: Monday, June 2, 2014
WHEN: 4:30 to 8:30 PM
WHERE: Great Hall at FIT, New York, NY
RSVP: sign up for free admission

Giving Back in 2012

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It was wonderful to see the sheep that we donated to the women of the village of Tazghelilt and what a difference they are making in their lives.  Now the women have a source of dairy and wool for their weaving.  Several new sheep have been born, and more will be bred for the women to sell.

I had an opportunity to discuss new projects that Kahina can fund for these and other women in the region.  One group, situated by a busy road, is attempting to draw more tourists to their location and would like to operate a small café in the cooperative.  To do this, they require electricity and a refrigerator.  Another group would like to provide health insurance for each of its members.  And the women of Tazghelilt want still more sheep.

There is no shortage of need in rural Morocco.  Yet, it is amazing what a difference a little bit of help can make in the lives of these women.  The rewards of the success of Kahina Giving Beauty will be to bring all these ideas and more to fruition this year.

A model cooperative

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My criteria for selecting an argan supplier are as follows in the order of importance:

  • Highest quality oil produced using best harvesting and extraction practices
  • Fair wages for the women who work to produce the oil
  • A well functioning organization
  • Women in need with a clear vision for ways in which Kahina can assist beyond trade
  • Income staying in the region

It has been challenging to find a producer that satisfies all of these requirements.As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have encountered corruption and groups of women unable to operate a functioning cooperative. Women not being paid for their work and, in some cases, foreigners running companies that pay a fair wage to the women for harvesting and cracking the nuts, but the income from the oil leaves the country.

On my most recent visit I encountered a group of women that operates effectively in the true spirit of a cooperative.The cooperative is run by a woman named Nadia who formed the cooperative at the request of the women in the village.She had been offering the women free literacy courses when they proposed that their group start a cooperative.Nadia did the work of applying for government funding, finding a building, purchasing equipment and setting up the cooperative.The women truly want to work to improve their lives and Nadia is their selfless leader.

I have learned that it is critical for the success of a cooperative to have an educated and dedicated administrator such as Nadia involved in running it. Hopefully, as more girls receive higher education in the region, they will choose to stay on in the villages and adopt these roles.

The truth about argan cooperatives

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While most companies selling argan oil and argan-based products claim to purchase their products from women’s cooperatives in Morocco, it is important to note that all cooperatives are not alike.

On each of my visits to Morocco, I spend lots of time in the rural south visiting argan suppliers in an effort to better understand the situation there.  Along with numerous success stories, I have unfortunately also encountered corruption, groups of women unable to sufficiently organize themselves in order to sustain a business, cooperatives and companies producing poor quality oil and selling it at a lower price, cooperatives run by men who do not pay the women who work there a fair wage, as well as larger conglomerates capitalizing the marketplace and squeezing out less organized/well financed groups of women.

On this visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Charouff, who was responsible for establishing the first women-run cooperative for the production of argan oil in 1999.  During our meeting we discussed the current state of the argan oil industry and the accompanying challenges and opportunities.  Most alarming is the fact that machines have been introduced to do the work of cracking the nuts.  While preserving companies’ bottom line by producing oil at a lower cost, these machines will eliminate jobs for the women of the region.

It will be difficult to determine whether the oil you are purchasing is actually cracked by hand or machine, as it is hard to know whether the oil is organic, or produced using best practices.  At Kahina Giving Beauty we personally source certified Fair Trade organic argan oil and carefully monitor harvesting and extraction techniques.  This ensures the highest quality oil and a fair wage for the women who work to extract the oil at the heart of our line.

Visit to Morocco May 2012

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I’ve just returned from Morocco after a 10-day trip that took me from Casablanca to Marrakesh, Essaouira, Agadir, Taroudant and the Anti-Atlas Mountains, and finally to Rabat.  Since my last visit, life has continued for the people of the villages, marked by marriages, births, and sadly a few deaths. It was especially wonderful to see how the children have grown up.

The girls were amused by photographs I brought of them which I took on my last visit.

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And proud to teach me their weaving techniques.

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They presented me with rugs they had woven and a ceremonial “mozoune” to wear to their celebration which lasted well into the night.

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I was happy to see the sheep donated by Kahina that supplied the wool for my rugs healthy and happy and living inside the home of the shepherd.

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From the Berber villages in the South, I traveled to Rabat, where I was the guest of the Ambassador at Large to Morocco, Assia Bensalah Alaoui, at the henna ceremony of her niece.  While the worlds of Moroccan diplomacy and the Berber women of the villages seem worlds apart, the stong fiber of Moroccan culture was evident in the shared traditions of female bonding through dance and joyous celebration.

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I return to New York with a renewed passion for Kahina’s mission to help the women of Morocco and to extend their notion of bonding through ritual across the Atlantic.

Women after the Arab Spring

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Today’s International Women’s Day happens to fall almost exactly one year from a revision to Morocco’s Constitution following the Feb. 20 protests there.  The new laws give special recognition to women’s rights and Berber rights, marking the realization of 20 years of activism among women in Morocco.

Morocco’s women’s rights movement began to gain momentum in 1992 with the reform of family law, eventually allowing women more freedom to choose who they marry, granting women the right to divorce, prohibiting polygamy except in rare cases and with the first wife’s consent, and combatting violence against women.  The Moroccan women’s movement has been successful by engaging religious and secular women in cooperation, understanding that treatment of women is rooted very much in Islamic traditions.  However, after the parliamentary elections last November, an Islamist faction won the majority of seats in the government.  Under the new Party, only one woman has been appointed to the Cabinet, down from seven in the 30-person decision making body, and far from the women’s movement goal of a 30% quota.  Ms Bassima al-Hakkaoui, the Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development, is the first hijab-wearing Islamist political figure to serve in the Moroccan government, and is in disagreement with many of the policy reforms on the status of women.

While it is too soon to tell what will happen to the status of women under the new Parliament, one thing is certain – with the high illiteracy rate of women in rural areas of Morocco, the biggest challenge remains integrating any reform in these areas.  I’ve witnessed this in the villages in Morocco, where the existing laws protecting women are sometimes ignored simply because the mostly illiterate women who live in the countryside don’t know their rights. Grass roots initiatives, such as Kahina’s, to provide education and economic sustainability are key to women taking advantage of laws already in place.

While Morocco has always seemed relatively stable during the Arab Spring, it doesn’t differ dramatically in its approach to women’s rights from other areas in the region as other autocracies that have supported women’s rights give way to Islamic Parties in power.  I had the extreme pleasure of attending a presentation on the state of women’s rights after the Arab Spring.The speaker was Aline Matta, the Senior Regional Advisor for the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, Middle East and North Africa division.Comparing women’s rights and representation in the government and judiciary in Tunisia and Egypt, Ms. Matta argues that while representation of women in government is an important step toward change, there is no simple legal solution.Real progress in women’s rights is made from the ground up with a true understanding of women’s needs in rural areas as well as the cities, and a sensitivity to cultural and religious attitudes.

In honor of Women’s History Month, please help these women to achieve (and keep) their hard won social gains by making a donation to an organization that supports women’s rights and/or works to ensure economic justice for women.  The following is are a few suggested organizations:

Women For Women International

The Global Fund for Women

Kiva

A Healthy and Prosperous New Year to All

Meeting of the Women of the Village

Its been a great year for Kahina Giving Beauty. During our second full year of selling products we reached several milestones, including domestic and international expansion, strengthened ties with our existing retail partners, exciting new product launches, and continued enthusiastic support from you, our customers.Most importantly, we were able to aid the Berber women at the heart of the Kahina line in the following ways:

·the purchase of 60 dairy goats for the women of the village of Tazghelite in the Mid-Atlas Mountains.

·Room and board for one girl for a school year through Education For All in the High Atlas Mountains

·A chance at economic independence for approximately 200 impoverished women through the work of argan oil production.

I am often asked how we determine how to allocate our funds for the Berber women.As a small start-up faced with the costs of running and growing a business, it is important to find ways in which our limited resources can have the most impact.I work directly with the Berber women and others on the ground in Morocco and let them tell me exactly what they need.For those of us in the West with easy access to food, shelter, electricity, and water, their answers can be surprising.Last year, our first full year in business, we paid for the organic certification of a small cooperative so they could participate in the international argan trade.This year, we learned from an association of women in a small village in the Mid-Atlas Mountains, that goats would dramatically improve their lives by providing milk to feed their children, and wool for them to use in their weaving, providing another opportunity for economic independence.In the case of Education For All, safe room and board means that a girl can continue her education beyond the third grade.

I thank all of our customers who have supported our mission of “Women Helping Women Through Shared Beauty Rituals” and look forward to a new year of health and prosperity for all.

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