....grew into a full time business!!
Thirty years ago this month after the cattle had been chased off the runway our plane touched down at the old and tired Kathmandu airport. We had no idea the defining moment in our careers had just taken place. But after 30 years, almost as many trips, a civil war, abdication of the monarchy and the transition to some sort of democracy our lives and work are still bound to Nepal.
Nepal has seen many changes in 30 years, but remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Our initial foray into what we now call “Fair Trade” began innocently enough with the purchase of 2 wool sweaters from a Tibetan refugee family. We are still proud of our association with the Tibetan Community and would not have been able to continue in Nepal without their honesty and hard work.
But it became apparent that so many talented artisans and craftspeople could use what we could provide, access to the US market. Within a few years we had established relationships with a dozen cottage industries and development aid projects, most of which, like the Association for Craft Producers (ACP) we still work with today.
What started as a simple act of buying a couple of sweaters grew into a full time business. Thirty years later Ganesh Himal Trading LLC helps support hundreds of craft producers in Nepal and sells to over 400 retail outlets in the US and Canada.
The principles of Fair Trade provided a template for our interactions in Nepal, even before there was a Fair Trade movement. Treat people with respect, make sure they get a fair return for their work, provide continuity over time, safe working conditions, design assistance and financial support.
Over the years we have been fortunate enough to provide other assistance to our extended Nepali family. Education in Nepal can go a long way in helping to alleviate poverty. We have seen people we work with save everything to put their children through school and now see the results as the next generation uses their education to help others.
Our trekking guide and good friend Ram, who has a 1st grade education, has two boys which we are putting through school. Pradeep, the eldest, now helps his Dad with business, leads groups of college kids to remote parts of Nepal and dreams of building the first school in his village.
Denise’s dear friend, Laxmi, a village weaver who organized other village weavers, used the money she made to send her daughter, Sudha, to high school, then college, then to graduate school for social work. Sudha came back to take over her mothers work of organizing the village weavers and works to create new products and more opportunity.
Kesang, the middle daughter of our dear Tibetan friends who we have known and worked with for 30 years, also has a family that values education. Her father, Namgyal, escaped Tibet as a child and was sponsored to a good school and college in India. Her mother, Pemala, also fled but never got to go past the 6th grade. Kesang, after finishing college in the US went back to Nepal and following in her mother and fathers footsteps started a knitting group called Padhma Creations on the Nepal/India border. Padhma Creations works with women who are victims of abuse, abandonment, civil war or the threat of trafficking.
Over the years we have also supported the “girl child education fund” which was initiated by the Association for Craft Producers, a non-profit which provides low income women with skills training and employment. A couple of years ago we were dismayed to learn that there wasn’t enough money in the fund to keep the girls in school. We promised to do what we could and the Power of 5 was born, raising enough money through donations to fund the project on an annual basis. Now 180 children are able to stay in school.
With the success of the Power of 5 campaign as well as the establishment of the Baseri health clinic, a joint project between us and our close friend, Sita Gurung, it became necessary to form a non-profit foundation for the continuation and expansion of these projects.
The Conscious Connections Foundation, formed with the help of our son Cameron & co-worker Austin Zimmerman realizes a dream thirty years in the making; being able to fund education and healthcare in Nepal on a continuing basis. The Conscious Connections Foundation will allow tax deductible contributions, provide a platform for the well attended Power of 5 fundraising events and allow us to expand into other areas like college scholarships and health education.
After 30 years in Nepal a new chapter is just beginning. It is an exciting time not just for us but for the wonderful people we work with in Nepal. Children are growing up and taking their place in the struggle for dignity and fairness. Fair Trade is an ever increasing idea, whose merits appeal to more and more consumers. And the value of girls and women in education and the marketplace are finally being recognized.
After 30 years we can look back on many accomplishments but more importantly we look forward to the future and 30 more years of friendships, fair trade and conscious connections!