It’s 4 AM in Surif, Palestine and although it’s still dark outside, Zeina is getting out of bed to start the day. As a woman in a region fraught with fear, unemployment and the constant fear of conflict, Zeina doesn’t find life easy. She shoulders the responsibility of raising a family and managing a household with very little money. Soon after breakfast, Zeina visits her elderly mother who at 88 is frail and in need of daily care. With no insurance or affordable medical treatment, Zeina looks after her mother and makes sure she has what she needs.

On bad days, when her mother is sick, Zeina can’t go to work. Today, though, she’s well enough to let Zeina go to her office. Here, Zeina oversees a small cooperative of women who make traditional Palestinian embroidery. A single hand-embroidered scarf can take over 100 hours of work and because the women are busy managing households, they’ll often take home their work and return the piece, finished and ready for sale.

The cooperative is a lifeline for these women, at a time when so many Palestinian men are unemployed – the Gaza strip has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates. Women’s work like sewing, that was once seen as a sideline job adding to the husband’s income, has become a vital living wage for the families of the craftswomen. Zeina loves her job. To her, it means earning an income to support her family, while continuing the beautiful traditions of her ancestors generations before her. For many of her coworkers, the money earned from embroidery is the sole source of family income.

Created behind the barbed wire and walls surrounding Palestine, the embroidered handicrafts of Zeina and her coworkers would have little chance of being sold or seen in the world outside, were it not for Sunbula. Sunbula is a fair trade organisation that buys goods from small groups like Zeina’s cooperative, and sells them to retailers in nearby Jerusalem and throughout the world, including our own Global Handicrafts shop. We sell pencil cases, soap and jewellery made by these and other Palestinian artisans.

Zeina doesn’t know much about Hong Kong, or the people who might buy her cooperative’s beautifully embroidered products. Yet, she enjoys the extra income that they generate and the freedom that comes from being fairly paid for a job well done. In a land where uncertainty reigns, Zeina cherishes that all the more closely.

Shop for Sunbula products at Global Handicrafts here.

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The city of Bethlehem has attracted tourists seeking peace and meaning for centuries, and for local Bethlehem residents, this stream of tourists is an economic lifeline. In a region where jobs are so scarce, many small handicrafts shops have appeared, where Bethlehem craftsmen can earn an income selling olive wood carvings that symbolise the memory of Bethlehem for visitors.

There’s a darker side to Bethlehem’s woodcarving industry, though. Olive wood artisans often work in small spaces where generations of fine sawdust is thick on the walls, the floor, the roof and even in the garden outside. It takes a serious toll on the health of these craftspeople who often work with wood throughout their entire lives. They can develop coughs and respiratory problems, and even cancer.

For many of these artisans, this is just the way life goes. Their parents before them had worked in the same conditions, just like their grandparents and the generations before them.

One woman, Basma, saw the unsafe conditions faced by Bethlehem’s woodworkers and was determined to make a change. Heading up local enterprise Holy Land Handicrafts – whose wood carvings we sell in our own Global Handicrafts shop – she started making workplaces safer for the 35 workshops in the cooperative. At first, she met resistance. “Why change things from the way our ancestors have done things for generations?” the olive wood families asked her. With education and advocacy, though, Basma started to see people’s attitudes shift, and she finally found one woodworker named Raja, who agreed to let her help him adapt his workshop to make it safer and in line with fair trade principles.

An engineering team worked on Raja’s workshop for months. They re-painted the walls, cleaned out generations of wood dust, and most importantly, installed an extractor device that sucks up wood dust and coating fumes, removing them safely from the workspace. Raja coats his  wood carvings in lacquer to preserve them. Inhaling the fumes for many years had damaged Raja’s health.

“Before, I was coughing all the time when I put lacquer on the carvings,” he explains. “But since I’ve been using the extraction hood, I noticed that I’ve stopped coughing. I can breathe better and my health has improved. It really changed my life.”

In such a small community, it doesn’t take long for stories to spread. The fact that Raja had suddenly stopped coughing reached the ears of other artisans and their wives. Soon, dozens of other woodworking families were begging Holy Land Handicrafts to renovate their own shops too. Thus far, 9 shops have been renovated and many more are on the waiting list! It’s literally changing the health and lives of Bethlehem’s artisans. For their wives too, it’s a relief to know that their own sons, who intend to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, might escape the health problems that have plagued generations of local woodworkers. “Before the renovation, I wouldn’t allow my son to work in this business,” said one mother. “There was so much noise and dust everywhere. It just wasn’t safe and I didn’t want to expose my child to this, even if he wanted it himself. But because of the renovation, I’m now happy for my son to follow his father.”

Olive wood carvings from Holy Land Handicrafts are popular sellers in the Global Handicrafts shop, especially at Christmas time. Now we, and our customers, can breathe a little easier, knowing that the artisans can, too! It’s a joy to know that fair trade truly is changing, and saving lives.

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Education and job creation for people with special needs

The Philippines is home to some of the most beautiful places on earth. However, 26.5% of the population lives below the international poverty line, and life is particularly difficult for those with disabilities who are living in poverty.

Philippines

Living with special needs in the Philippines makes it difficult to find a job or access proper education. Government statistics indicate that 97% of people across the Philippines living with disabilities are not reached by the public school system. Our consignee in Manila is bringing change to the lives of children, young adults and adults with disabilities like autism. “Due to the high cost of medical, rehabilitation, and educational and vocational training services for youth with special needs, many families cannot afford to avail of quality intervention for them,” they write. Their programmes for developmentally disabled people include job-readiness courses (64 students), life skills and transition education (150 students) and community-based rehab and education (reaching 600).

Shipment includes:

  • School furniture for educational programmes
  • Toys and musical instruments for rehabilitation activities
  • Computers for clerical skills training
  • Household goods and furniture for training in hospitality skills and personal life skills like managing a bedroom or kitchen

A86Aingee (16) has autism. Our partner’s programmes help her learn to cope with normal activities that many of us take for granted. As well as structured learning experiences, Aingee learns to handle daily life routines and activities, from grocery shopping to trips to the dentists and swimming or going to the movies. This gives Aingee the opportunity to learn how to work with others in a safe, caring environment.

This shipment will help more than 150 people like Aingee take life skills training.


A45Louis’ parents were very worried when, at 14 years old, his special school closed its doors and he was left with nowhere that could cater for his special needs. Louis, who has autism and cannot talk, has attended special schools since he was 3 years old. Most of the schools his parents could find would only take young children, rather than teenagers or adults. They worried Louis would never learn the life skills he needed to be independent, or even hope to find a job. Thankfully, they discovered our partner’s school and now at 20 years old, Louis is thriving.

“My son has finally come home,” says his mother.

“He will stay here and develop to the utmost that he can ever be, as a special person.”

Crossroads shipment will help more people with disabilities like Louis reach their potential.

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Philippines Snapshot

Population: 98,39 million
Capital: Manila

Population living below international poverty line of US$1.25 per day: 26.5%

Government statistics indicate that 1.57% of people in the Philippines are living with a disability.  97% of people living with disabilities are not being reached by the public school system.A51

Healthcare

A33Albania is the 4th poorest country in Europe. The Dibra region is among the poorest regions of Albania. People living in Dibra, Northern Albania, are the ones left behind. Here, unemployment is high, people are migrating in search of jobs and healthcare is scarce. “Pediatricians say it is difficult for them to provide the right diagnosis because they can’t do the right examination. They said that they only have stethoscope and their knowledge and that’s all.”

 “Even in the main hospital you can’t find equipment,” wrote Crossroads’ partners.

Crossroads’ is shipping to an NGO partner in this region who has been working on improving health care here since 1993. It’s a huge task in a region where doctors struggle to diagnose and treat patients, because they lack instruments and equipment.

Potential impact:

  • This medical equipment will allow the doctors and other medical staff at the local hospital to provide much better care for the people of this area.
  • This will make a great difference in the lives of the many who must go without medical care, or who are misdiagnosed due to a lack of medical equipment.

Shipment includes:

  • Medical devices, mainly for standard hospital use.

Economic needs in Dibra

A31Dibra is one of the poorest areas in the Albania. Incomes are so low for families that most of them are only surviving. Emigration is sometimes a solution, but this creates its own difficulties for the family or even for the community. Agriculture is one of the remaining sources of income, but farmers often can’t sell their produce (because of the geographical location, road infrastructure, etc). Many families receive social assistance, but say the amount must stretch so far that even a sack of flour is too much to afford.

Crossroads’ shipment will help traveling doctors treat people in places with no clinics, or with hospitals struggling with broken, decades-old equipment.

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Albania Snapshot

Population: 3 million
Capital: Tirana

Population living of less than US$2 per day: around 25%

Almost half of the poor people in Albania are under 21 years of age

in the north-eastern districts of Kukes and Dibra, 80 per cent of families’ income comes from social protection schemes, economic assistance and disability payments.

Because of undeveloped infrastructure, many small-scale farmers lack access to market outlets for their produce, particularly in mountainous areas like Dibra.

A37

Madina, 17, faced a wretched set of options as a refugee in Uganda. She and her family fled the war in southern Sudan but there was little by way of support for her or the four younger sisters who needed care. Her mother asked her to marry so that the bridal price would help. Madina did not want to marry for that reason alone and sought to alleviate their need with income from occasional work.

As a refugee, though, without much education or training, she couldn’t hope to get a good, steady job.

Crossroads sent a shipment to the town where Madina lives, and she was identified by our local partner to benefit. They gave Madina a ‘start up package’ of things she could use to begin a small clothing business. Now, she owns a mobile business selling clothes door to door.

“You are different”, she told them, with gratitude. “You have made me feel loved in a foreign land.  With this new business, I will be able to provide for my mother and pay school fees for my sisters instead of marrying. You are changing our lives.”

Also included in the container was furniture for three schools, along with provision for many of the most impoverished families in the community.

“You have helped put a smile on many of these faces,” the NGO told us. “You have helped restore hope to those that had lost hope.”

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Uganda Snapshot

Population: 37.58 million
Capital: Kampala

Uganda is a fertile, land-locked country in East Africa, in the Africa Great Lakes region, with a tropical climate.

Great progress has been made in fighting HIV in Uganda, but 1.5 million people still live with the disease, and there are 1 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

39% of girls are married by the age of 18. 37.7% of people in Uganda live below the international poverty line of US$1.25/day.

A6

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Each day, as stubbornly high unemployment plagues Uganda, many struggle to find any kind of work. This is nowhere more true than in the northern part of the country where two decades of war have left almost no infrastructure intact. In an effort to survive when no other work could be found, Francis Kidega and his family of eight began making jewellery out of the only thing they had access to: paper. They are now able to support themselves through the revenue these crafts bring, even as they learn how to take their new skill and turn it into a business, helping their neighbouring families in the process. Revenue gained from the sale of these products supports this family as they work, learn, grow and share.

FK

Crossroads Foundation Hong Kong

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Uganda Snapshot

Population: 37.58 million
Capital: Kampala

Uganda is a fertile, land-locked country in East Africa, in the Africa Great Lakes region, with a tropical climate.

Great progress has been made in fighting HIV in Uganda, but 1.5 million people still live with the disease, and there are 1 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

39% of girls are married by the age of 18. 37.7% of people in Uganda live below the international poverty line of US$1.25/day.

A6

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The tourist write-up made it sound idyllic to spend Easter in Jerusalem, a city filled with history. What it didn’t mention was the fact that the area would be filled with military and police for the holiday weekend. When Crossroads representatives took a follow-up trip to the region, they found the armed forces on 100% alert.

Israel_girls_on_chairsThe media had extended the call to the population at large. “If you own a gun, carry it,” it had warned. “If you need to use it, do!” Our team encountered the tension repeatedly. Passing through a military checkpoint near Jerusalem, for example, their guide said, “Bombs are thrown here all the time. Just the other day, a homemade gasoline bomb exploded on this spot.”

As the Middle Eastern conflict continues, tourists and businesspeople are staying away from the area in droves. As a result, the local economy is plunging, making everyday life a battle for the average family. Nearly a third of children in Israel now live below the poverty line. Many elderly people are similarly vulnerable when poverty strikes. People simply can’t find enough work in the current climate, and the only real hope for many families is to be helped by an aid organisation.

“Poverty is hidden in this country,” an aid worker in Israel told us. “As a visitor, it might not be visible to you, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find real need.”

She should know. She liaises with organisations all over the country who are trying to supply life’s basics. “They can’t afford clothes, shoes, furniture, medical care. Some are even struggling to find food…” The outlets she supplies offer all these things.

Crossroads has helped too, and now supplies containers to the region several times a year.

Crossroads Foundation Hong Kong

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Donate to a shipment like this one.

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Our food-saving superheroes

Every day, 3,600 tonnes of food waste are sent to landfill in Hong Kong, according to Feeding Hong Kong. Meanwhile, people...

read more ...

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When Sri Lankan artist Sagara Ranga Liyanage decided to start a handicrafts business, he had to think outside the box. "I...

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