January 2009 - Destiny Bead Products

Empowering Women - Destiny Bead Products
by Sarah Saeed

The Nokia-Karavan Craft Centre (NKCC) project outreaches to women in the Siran Valley who have been affected by the disastrous South-Asian earthquake of 2005. The women come from deprived and marginalised communities in remote and mountainous villages. The additional constraints of inaccessibility and social/cultural limitations have made relief and rehabilitation efforts more challenging. The NKCC program however is the first stepping stone in enabling women to rebuild their lives and empower them to take control of the future. It does this by engaging women in productive activity as a strategy to help them overcome their trauma.

The program aims to:
• Overcome trauma by engaging women in an activity.
• Empower women and elevate their status in the community.
• Develop pathways to livelihoods.
• Generate an income for women and their families.
• Identify and revive local arts and crafts.

The strategies noted below create a framework for initialising support to women and developing sustainable livelihood opportunities.

Participatory Approach
A participatory approach has led the program design and implementation phases. The women themselves have been engaged in discussion forums, the first of which resulted in a 150 person turnout. Here women participated in defining the scope and methodology of the program. Participatory initiatives are essential in order to determine responses that are culturally and socially appropriate as well as ensuring that the beneficiaries develop a sense of ownership for the project.

Asset Based Approach
An asset based approach involves utilising existing strengths in the community. This approach has been implemented in order to mobilise women quickly and efficiently. Existing skill sets were identified in an initial women’s gathering held in May 2006. The gathering also explored ways in which the assets could be mobilised to ensure that future activities were sustainable.

Traditional beadwork and sewing were identified as skills with future marketability potential. Local women however devalued traditional beadwork, as its previous use was for personal adornment only. Rather the most vocal demand was for sewing machines. Strategies were developed to use both these skills to mobilise women in developing livelihood opportunities. In a group setting women are mobilised to produce beadwork bracelets, with the team leader given a sewing machine.

By promoting existing assets women are able to develop an importance for themselves and the skills they possess, which in turn cultivates self confidence and motivation for rebuilding one’s life.

Initialising Support Networks
Women are guided to form groups consisting of ten to twelve households. The woman offering a communal space to work in is identified as the team leader. The predefined groups of women meet and work from their respective common gathering space. In this group environment women are able to engage with one another and offer communal support. In a sense these spaces become ‘support groups’ where activities are tackled together, women form relationships and provide the social support needed to overcome traumatic experiences.

Reviving Local Heritage: Supporting Local Arts and Crafts
The program promotes the revival of traditional arts and crafts by focusing on traditional beadwork, an activity practiced for generations in the area by women for women. The type of jewellery worn reflects the status of women and young girls. The most important of the jewellery pieces includes elaborately crafted necklaces, hand and finger lacy covers and bracelets. In an effort to strengthen local arts and crafts women are encouraged to not only revive their bead craft, but promote it at a national/international level by creating products appropriate for varied target markets. In order to retain authenticity and the spirit of ‘one of a kind’ products they are encouraged to use their traditional designs and colour combinations.

Maximising Use of Existing Resources and Minimising Costs
Strategies have been implemented to ensure that:
• existing resources are used to their maximum potential;
• expenditure is kept to a minimum and
• communities are supported to strengthen their existing infrastructure
One way this has been done is to identify women who can offer larger group spaces that are converted into the ‘craft centres’. Utilising existing spaces instead of sourcing new locations has four specific project benefits:
1) Funds that may have been used on constructing rooms to house the craft centres can now be directed to alternative project needs.
2) Traditionally women in the area have not earned an income, worked or spent time out of their own home environment. The location of the craft centres within another woman’s house, in close proximity to their own, will help women to feel more comfortable and at ease, as opposed to working from a foreign independent locality.
3) Historically and culturally women in the area have undertaken day to day activities from the home. Working in a communal environment close to home with other women may ease concerns or oppositions from the male community. This in turn may encourage the community as a whole to show support for the program.
4) The number of craft centres can grow organically and as required as more women get involved in the program.

The NKCC program has proven to be successful in supporting women to overcome trauma, as well as developing pathways to livelihoods. Operations are carried out from the project tent office at Kodar Bala. Design, sorting and packaging is carried out at Heritage Foundation’s head office in Karachi. Products have been promoted nationally and internationally through Nokia and Heritage Foundation friends. Currently all products are purchased by the program and extended networks are being established to market the products.

Growing no. of Craft Centres
Five craft centres were mobilised in mid June 2006, which produced 12 bracelets in the first two weeks. By mid December 2006, 17 craft centres were in operation, having produced up to 800 bracelets. The number of craft centres grew to 55 with rapid increase in production of jewellery items. Almost 500 women became engaged in the program, collectively producing over 5000 bracelets per month. The cultural and geographical considerations taken in locating craft centres within another home environment and in close proximity to women’s homes allows women to establish more centres quickly and efficiently when required.

Empowerment of Women
The program has been successful in engaging women in a productive activity. Women come together in a communal setting, revive their traditional arts and crafts while earning an income for the first time in their lives. This, collectively, has raised women’s confidence and self esteem. As a result men in the community have also valued the program and women’s roles in the community have been elevated. The program has also inspired men in the area to get involved in productive community participation activities.

Expanding Product Range
The success of the NKCC’s initial product the ‘Destiny Bracelet’ has led to an expanded product range: the ‘Destiny Bead Collection’. The collection includes beaded napkin rings, bangles, cell phone pouches, cell phone pendants, candle stands, key chains and spectacle holders. The continual development of the product range will ensure that items respond to current trends thereby making them more market friendly. Product evolution also helps women to further develop their bead working skills thereby constantly building women’s capacity and opening doors for alternate programs.