Behind every handcrafted item sold by Rising International, there is a story. And although each story starts with tragedy, it ends in hope.
Take, for instance, the cute little felt purses that sport removable finger puppets – just the thing to give to your young daughter or niece. They are made in Nepal by girls who have been victims of human trafficking.
“It’s so powerful, having girls who have been rescued, who are now making something for girls,” said Rising International executive director Carmel Jud, who started her nonprofit organization a decade ago.
Whether it’s baby booties from Bosnia or woven platters made in Zimbabwe, every object has a hidden and poignant history.
There are also the cloth dolls made by Afghan widows, the poorest of the poor in a country beset by war, where 87 percent of the female population is illiterate. Or the brightly colored aprons made by artisans in the Congo, which Jud calls “the worst country for women on the planet,” where rape is epidemic.
Although there are other groups and businesses selling global handicrafts, none of them do exactly what Rising International does. Based in Santa Cruz, California, Rising is unique in the way it connects impoverished women in other countries with women here who need help making a living.
Rising International works with select groups of female artisans in 19 countries to create items that will appeal to customers in the United States. Money that the artisans make from their wares helps them raise themselves and their children out of poverty, providing food, better living conditions and education, Jud said.
The Rising representatives in the United States – many of them single mothers who are underemployed – sell items from the Rising International catalog at home parties, receiving a cut of the proceeds as independent sales consultants.
Rising works closely with their representatives, training them and giving necessary support to help them succeed.
“We’re the first to do this, ever,” said Jud, who left a career in advertising and marketing to start Rising International in 2003.
Jud’s journey began when she began questioning herself about her role in the world.
“I read a question which said, ‘How are you best suited to serve humanity?’ said Jud. “It really struck me.”
Now Rising helps 2,300 women in other countries support themselves and their families, and more than 80 representatives in the United States who sell the crafts for them, Jud said.
Jud said that Rising specifically looks for artisans in countries where conditions are the worst for women, and if possible, find ways to heal their suffering. In Rwanda, for instance, a basket project has brought together female survivors of the horrific genocide there with the mothers and wives of genocide perpetrators, an effort to reconcile the past and promote peace.
In all of their artisan projects, Jud said, “We bring an awareness to the issue, and show that women do have value.”
Jud said Rising operates with on just $185,000 annually, a less-than-shoestring budget that she says would not be possible without dedicated volunteers and low overhead.
Jud’s intent from the beginning was to pay a living wage to women in these situations, and so Rising purchases crafts directly from the artisans with the assistance of local and international nonprofits. Rising has partnered with a variety of organizations, including CARE International, the Peace Corps, and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in order to directly support women’s crafts groups from Bangladesh to Guatemala.
As you might imagine, bringing handicrafts out of these countries can be challenging, since some of the artisans are homeless, displaced, live in refugee camps, or are in hostile war-torn regions. “We have tons of logistic issues all the time,” said Jud.
Once here, the items are then sold in two ways: online, through Rising’s website, and through Rising Fair Trade Parties, which are modeled after the home party model used by Tupperware and The Pampered Chef.
Except that instead of simply buying items, the guests who attend these parties also get to hear the artisans’ stories as related by the Rising representatives. And the representatives often share their own perspectives as well.
Now that Rising International has celebrated its first 10 years, Jud’s hope is to keep expanding, adding more representatives as well as more artisan projects. A traveling exhibit of Afghan dolls is also being planned.
People who are interested in donating, volunteering, or hosting a Rising International home party can contact the organization through the website www.risinginternational.org or call (831) 429-7473. Handcrafted items can also be ordered through the website.
Interview with Carmel Jud, April 2013