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Beyond Décor: Mela Artisans Gives Back

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When co-founders and father-daughter team Sonali Mehta-Rao and Navroze Mehta first founded Mela Artisans in 2010, they were motivated by stories of master craftsmen forced into giving up their craft in exchange for a life of abject poverty as unskilled workers in India’s large urban centers.  But beyond this initial goal of supporting artisans’ craft by bringing their product to the global market, they envisioned a company whose larger goal was an enhanced quality of life for artisans across the globe.

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Co-Founder Sonali Mehta-Rao (second from right) with managers from Asha handicrafts at the Fair Trade event.

As part of this effort, Mela Artisans now invests 1% of revenue into social programs that benefit our partner artisan communities. This April, in collaboration with Asha Handicrafts, Mela used its 1% of revenues budget to organize our first social benefit event in Saharanpur, where a number of our artisans live and work.  Based on artisans’ surveyed needs, Mela offered a selection of health and other services to our artisan community at drastically reduced or no cost.

Energy Access: Solar Lanterns

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Residents of Saharanpur learning about the benefits of solar lanterns from Greenlight Planet.

One of the struggles many of Mela’s artisans face is limited access to reliable energy sources at home. Workers spend their limited funds on candles and kerosene lamps, which have open flames and produce smoke, creating a safety and health hazard. To help combat this issue, we brought in a reputable low-cost solar company, Greenlight Planet, to demonstrate their products. We then conducted a lottery, giving away free solar lanterns to several community members.

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Lottery winners from our program with their new solar lamps.

Healthcare Access: Eye Care

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A Vision Spring obstetrician performing an eye exam.

Based on feedback from our partner, Asha Handicrafts, affordable healthcare is difficult to find in Saharanpur. Although Asha offers a health clinic to employees in the region, they have never provided vision-related services, which are directly relevant to artisanal work. If our artisans can’t clearly see the products they are crafting, they are unable to work. We therefore invited Vision Spring to conduct free eye exams and to sell affordable eyewear to artisans and their families during our event.

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Residents of Saharanpur trying on eye glasses.

Vision Spring dispensed prescription glasses, reading glasses and sunglasses to the artisans at very affordable prices ($3-$5 USD). Fifty-nine attendees were screened and  fifteen pairs of reading glasses, 3 pairs of sunglasses and 1 pair of prescription glasses were purchased.

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An artisan testing out a pair of reading glasses.

Financial Access: Banks and Savings Products

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Community members listening to an explanation of the benefits of different financial services.

Another obstacle faced by many of our artisans is exclusion from financial institutions such as bank accounts and savings – access that many of us take for granted. Financial security is an essential component of well-being and with 72% of our artisans in Saharanpur lacking bank accounts and 60% having no savings – we had to take action. For the fair trade event, we brought in a certified accountant to conduct informal financial literacy discussions. Furthermore, we assisted our artisans in opening over 200 accounts at a local bank where they had previously been denied.

Based on the success of this fair with our artisans in Saharanpur,  Mela plans on sponsoring similar events in other artisan communities. Since every village, town and region has varied and complex needs, we plan on offering services and goods specifically targeted to each community’s individual challenges. For some this might mean improved access to healthcare, while for others quality education or clean water access might be the priorities. Regardless, our goal remains the same: improved well-being for all artisans, worldwide.

 

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  • Esha Chhabra