“It really brought home the fact that crafting can transcend cultural barriers and bring together people from such diverse backgrounds, to work together as a community. We can learn so much from each other, and to experience this first hand in the Skills Exchange was kind of a magical experience. ” -Cat from Cat Rabbit
The magic of making and of connecting with community is something we are very familiar with here at Etsy. In 2016, the Australian and New Zealand community of Etsy sellers came together for a second time to support Make For Good, a community-led initiative to raise funds for Plan International’s Because I Am A Girl campaign. As part of Make For Good, two Australian sellers; Cat from Cat Rabbit & Kirralee from Kirralee & Co were selected to represent the Etsy community and travel to Sri Lanka to see Plan’s work first hand and participate in a skills exchange program with local women.
Cat and Kirralee travelled first to the capital of Colombo, and then embarked on an eight hour bus ride to Batticaloa in the east of Sri Lanka, giving both of the makers some time to think about the upcoming experience. “I was really excited about meeting the girls at Plan and to learn a new skill,” explains Kirralee. “I recall thinking on the bus ride what a treat it might be to discover that the girls are avid makers just like us! (Side note, they TOTALLY were!).”
Plan’s Youth Economic Leadership program in Sri Lanka aims to help young people by giving them access to the skills that will help them find employment. Women in the program must also battle patriarchal stereotypes which marginalise them and make it hard to find employment outside of them home. Plan International’s program works to empower these young women, so they can support themselves and their families.
A warm welcome from the women at the vocational centre helped turn nerves into excitement, as all the makers sat together in a large circle in one of the centre’s classrooms; it was time for the crafting to begin! The Skills Exchange opened with the Sri Lankan women teaching Cat and Kirralee how to make cord out of coconut fibres which was then dyed and turned into colourful pencil holders, which took the Australian makers a little while to get the hang of, but all in good humour. As Kirralee explains: “It was hilarious when we weren’t able to do the skill they were teaching very well but the girls were so patient with us.”
The second skill the Sri Lankan women taught involved drying palm fronds before slicing them into thin ribbons and weaving them into colourful coasters and bags. The Australian makers enjoyed the challenge, and as Cat shares, quickly found a connection with the ladies. “I loved the feeling of camaraderie – it happened immediately! There was no shyness or hesitancy, everyone launched right in and started making and asking for directions, not holding back.”
After lunch, the Australian makers brought their skills to the table. Kirralee led the ladies in using kumihimo (a Japanese rope making technique) to create friendship bracelets, and any fears about communication quickly faded away. “I found that when we weren’t able to communicate with words, suddenly actions and body language and facial expression said all that needed to be said. Because crafting is action based and is really fun, it easily transcends cultural divides and heads us towards a common goal.”
Cat had a similar feeling when shared her plush toy making skills with the group. “The language barrier concerned me – I was nervous that I would find it impossible to communicate at all, let alone communicate how to sew a plush toy! As it turns out, I am way better at showing people how to do things than telling them – so it actually worked out really well. It was kind of beautiful, communicating through our skills and without words, and a revelation to me that I can be more articulate with my hands than with language.”
The Skills Exchange experience has made a lasting impact on both the makers. “In terms of perspective, even though I know it was only a small glimpse of the world I do really feel more connected with the global maker community now… Plan’s work is so necessary and so well targeted that my business will continue to support Plan… throughout the year,” Kirralee said.
Likewise, the way craft connects us was highlighted to Cat. “The skills exchange really highlighted the fact that making equals empowerment. Our ability to produce a desirable product ultimately means that we are able to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. This is a super power! I saw this in the women we met – and it reminded me of why I first started making things. So, in a way, my perspective shifted back to the beginning – the whole reason I started my Etsy store. It’s an easy thing to lose sight of – when you’re constantly battling with day to day anxieties and keeping up with social media – but such an important thing to keep with you.”
Want to help change the lives of women and girls living in poverty? Good news for you – Make For Good will be back in 2017! Stay tuned for more news very soon.
Big thanks to the team at Intrepid Travel whose generous support gave the Make For Good skills exchange participants a chance to explore and learn more about Sri Lanka. Here’s what they had to say: We’re proud to support Etsy and Plan International Australia’s Make for Good campaign. Intrepid has been a long-time supporter of Plan International’s work to empower women and communities in the places we visit. For 28 years we’ve helped local communities through local and immersive small group travel experiences. We believe businesses can be a force for good.
Sigourney works in Etsy Australia’s Community team and enjoys all things handmade. She’s currently on the hunt for the perfect coffee table. Sigourney’s favourite things to shop for on Etsy include greeting cards, silly accessories for her cats and anything octopus related.