In a city where poverty knocks on car windows at every traffic light, doing occasional charity help ease our conscience. We feel obliged to buy things not because they could be attractive or useful but because the money — we are told — would go to this disadvantaged group or the other. However, there is a rare handicraft store in Uday Park where you buy things because they are pretty, the charity bit being incidental.
Run by an NGO called MESH (Maximising Employment to Serve the Handicapped), this store operates under a concept called fair trade. “It’s a tool for poverty elimination and it tries to ensure the rights of marginalised producers,” says Jacqueline Bonney, the executive secretary, MESH. The practice of fair trade helps an artisan access the market and earn a decent income, unhindered by middlemen. So, a villager suffering from leprosy might have difficulty selling her creations to fellow villagers, but organisations such as MESH take the products to the wider public.
Working with 40 different artisan groups in India, this NGO has connected handicapped artisans —weavers, stone carvers, papier mache workers and wood-cutters — from states such as Tamil Nadu, Adhra Pradesh, Bihar, UP, and Kashmir to markets in India as well as those in Europe and the US. The products are perfectly saleable on their own merit. The Uday Park store is filled with beautiful handmade hair bands, bags, cushion covers, batik greeting cards, table cloths, stuffed animals, pen stands, rulers, piggy banks, shawls and saris, priced from Rs 60 to Rs 4,000. You could buy them for what they are, not where they come from. Though it is good to know that working conditions there were healthy and safe. And that the artisans, 70 per cent of whom are women, got a good return.
“It is important that the artisans profit from their hard work,” says Bonney. Ideally, they are given the freedom to price their products themselves; often, they have no idea how to do that. Then MESH, a member of Fair Trade Forum India and World Fair Trade Organisation, helps them with the pricing. After paying the artist the agreed amount, it will sell, say, her pillow cover, at a 15 per cent premium in city showrooms. You get an eye-catcher for your home and its creator gets a better life in her own home. That’s a bargain.
Where 5, Local Shopping Centre, Uday Park, Phone: 26965039/26568048