Earlier this decade, Gay and William Lebourg landed on a remote island in the South Pacific. Determined to be productive and to help the local villagers, they scoured the island for ideas and discovered that a few of the locals hand-wove fine baskets and trays from a native vine called “Water Vine or Vigne d'Eau.” They thought the designs were beautiful, and began marketing them over the internet to fine stores in Europe. Today, 17 years later, they have over 800 artisans designing and making baskets for them. Income from these baskets has dramatically lifted the standard of living for many of these artisans, who, prior to the Lebourg’s arrivals, eked out a subsistence living growing rice. What follows are notes and photos from Mrs. Lebourg’s journeys to local villages where her artisans work:
Saturday, August 29, 2009
I went to a remote village this morning. I had not visited it in some time. Peirce, a man who started weaving for us only 2 years ago, proudly showed me his roof.
His goal is to replace the Nipa (palm) thatched roof – that only lasts a year and leaks when it rains – with galvanized iron sheets. He has accomplished 80% of the conversion, and said none of it could have happened without money earned from weaving for us. He also said that 20 other villagers are now actively weaving for us, and that all of them have seen improvements in their lives and the lives of their children.
Before I left, the weavers all came to meet me. One was just a newcomer and I was surprised at the skill she displayed: her weaving quality was tops! There are some who are gifted like this.
I wasn’t saying anything to the villagers, just listening and they all told me how this livelihood improved their lives. Afterwards, they showed me around their crops and I went home with a basket of fruits which was harvested for me.
Jojo and His Wife
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Today I went to this other village which I have not visited either recently.
Jojo came to see me. He is handicapped and had visited me 4 years ago when I went to see their villages' officer.
Jojo visited me alone and told me that he had no source of income due to his condition and would like to try weaving baskets.
It took me a while to accept his products because his quality did not meet our standards. It did not stop him from trying over and over again despite our consistent rejection. I admired his courage and determination.
His weaving eventually improved, and now his designs are some of our finest. His wife and neighbours have since joined the team and they slowly multiplied.
He showed me how – with earnings made from weaving -- he constructed a house made of cement and showed me around his house and his plans for expansion. He told me he has already demolished his previous hut which leaked badly every rainy season.
His wife told me how thankful she is that she has been able to send her kids to school because of earnings from weaving, although she admitted that the recession (which affected our sales) forced her to keep back one child this year.
I was really struck by this and thought that probably there are still lots of villagers out there in this situation.
Later in the day, we passed by a rice field where some weavers where processing their rice harvest. During harvest time, I am always in trouble because some of the weavers have to stop weaving for a few weeks and take care of their food supply.
But I manage somehow with the deadlines because I have enough weavers in other villages to rotate the work.
72, and Going Strong
Then I met this 72 year old woman who (to my surprise) is still actively going to the mountains every day, leaving at 6am in the morning and coming home at 5 pm. She brings along her pack lunch. She said she can't stand staying at home doing nothing, it makes her sick, and besides, she
earns money from harvesting the Nito vines we use and buys her groceries with it.
In the attached photo, she showed me her harvest for the past 3 days. She then explained how difficult it is to harvest the vines, especially if the vines are twirling high around the bushes beyond her reach and she has to untangle them patiently. And sometimes there are snakes around.
A day of inspirational stories of life, survival, hope and perseverance and yet appreciation too.