Inspired by Peace Corps Volunteer Third Goal initiatives—but never having served in the Peace Corps—Alia Kate claims the label of “honorary PCV.” Alia spent her life surrounded by the active RPCV community in her hometown of Milwaukee, exposed to world travelers and committed, connected individuals. She was six years old when she first visited the tiny village in the Casamance, Senegal where her mother served in 1980.
“I was staunchly determined not to follow in the footsteps
of my mother—I adamantly did not want to do Peace Corps or teach English,” says
Alia. Instead, she moved to Morocco in 2006 to volunteer for a year and a half
on a project in Rabat that fought against child labor. Early on, Alia became
fascinated by the complex craft of weaving, only performed by women. She was
introduced to Small Business Development (SBD) Peace Corps volunteers in the
country, visited their sites and got excited about the prospect of connecting
directly with the artisans themselves.
In 2007 Alia applied for and won an entrepreneurial grant through Oberlin College. This gave her the seed money to go back and spend extended periods of time with different people in different villages throughout Morocco; a dozen different PCVs, dozens of other volunteers and countless cooperatives throughout Morocco. She has also visited and consulted a number of other cooperatives on “best practices,” made presentations to incoming SBD volunteers and met with the country director. However, it wasn’t until the fall of 2008 when Kate traveled to Taznakht to buy carpets on behalf of her new fair trade business, Kantara Crafts, that she met SBD Volunteer Janelle Downing, who lived in southern Morocco from 2007-2009.
Janelle worked with a cooperative of women carpet weavers focusing on improving marketing and sales. She was impressed by the quality of the textiles and was shocked at the lack of access to markets where the women artisans could receive a fair wage for their work. When Janelle returned to the States she wanted to continue to find buyers for the carpets made by her friends of the village. Meanwhile, Alia also moved to New York City. They joined forces and are now taking Kantara Crafts to a new level.
Kantara Crafts (www.kantaracrafts.com) is a fair trade business that partners with Moroccan artisan cooperatives to offer finely crafted, hand-woven textiles in a socially responsible and environmentally conscious fashion. Kantara, meaning “bridge” in Arabic, seeks to establish local and long-lasting relationships by bridging the gap between women artisans in Morocco and socially conscious communities in the United States.
As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Kantara ensures all of its artisans are paid promptly and fairly, business is conducted in a transparent and accountable manner and cultural identity is respected. Kantara supports safe working conditions free of child laborers as is dedicated to promoting education and literacy. Alia is convinced that education is the solution to many problems in developing countries. As a result, Kantara Crafts is committed to reinvesting a portion of its proceeds into local education and literacy initiatives and capacity building efforts among weaving cooperatives. Kantara currently makes small grants on a rolling basis to organizations in Morocco.
Yesterday, Kantara Crafts hosted a reception to celebrate its official launch and to announce the first round of grant recipients for the Kantara Crafts Education Fund. “We hope to have a lot of RPCVs, Moroccans and other interested parties will be involved with the business in the future,” says Alia.
Best of luck to the new entrepreneurs!