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Beyond Borders
Recycled Metal Oil Drum Art from Haiti

Hand-crafted from cast-off 55-gallon steel oil drums, artists in Haiti follow four generations of tradition in metal sculpture. The artist first visualizes the design, often taking inspiration from the culture and natural surroundings. Next, they use chalk to mark the design onto the flattened metal and then, using only a hammer and chisel gives it form and dimension.

One of Plowshare’s newest metal art vendors, Beyond Borders, currently buys from 74 different artists, many of whom in turn, have staffs of paid apprentices working for them. Your purchase is their sale. Literally, our artists in Haiti are able to feed their families, keep roofs over the heads, and send their children to school because of your choice to buy their work.

Guerlande Balan has broken time-honored tradition in Haitian metal sculpting, simply by being female. In a field dominated entirely by men, female sculptors are making headway and Guerlande is leading the charge. Born in 1985, she began to help out in the shop of her famous brother Julio at the age of 10. Like “the boys,” her first jobs were to burn out the barrels, sand the metal, and pound it flat. Julio saw that his little sister not only had desire to learn, she had an eye for style and hands eager to execute. With his encouragement, she began creating her own designs. Guerlande admits, though, that no matter how intense her passion for art is, or how deep her talent runs, her greatest creation by far, and the one that gives her enduring pride is her daughter, Ashley Jean Francois.

Ojoba Collective
Hand Woven Market Baskets

Basket Weaving is a traditional craft of the Fra-Fra women of northern Ghana. Ojoba Collective directly works with 400 women to make our beautiful, high quality baskets. The women are all part of the Ojoba Widows Weaving Cooperative. All the baskets come in one large size and come in a wide assortment of colors and designs. Each basket is hand woven from elephant grass, a local grass native to West Africa, and has a leather wrapped handle made from cruelty-free leather. These baskets are very strong and durable! Use them as a beautiful home décor accent, take to the market, or to carry your belongings around town! Each basket is hand-made, and a beautiful and unique expression of the women who weave them.

Ayimbono is one of the original 75 members of the cooperative. When we began working with her in 2005, we interviewed her, and learned how difficult life could be as a young widow with five children in the poverty-stricken north of Ghana. Her main source of income since her husband died in 1998 has been basket weaving, but the low local prices available in the market place made it impossible to adequately provide for her family with her skill and hard work. They often went hungry.

But things have been improving since we formed the weaving cooperative. We met with her again on our last trip, and she reports that having the steady work, long-term business partnership, and good prices for her baskets have made a huge impact on her life. As she says “now I realize that I can stand on my own two feet. Even without a husband I can earn enough money for food and school fees. We don’t have to struggle as much now.”

Minga Fair Trade Imports
Tagua Carvings & Jewelry

Minga Fair Trade Imports was founded by Christopher Keefe in 1997. It began during his time living in Ecuador from 1995-2004 with the goal of improving education in Ecuador, increasing public knowledge of fair trade in the United States, and supporting the concept of a sharing wage. This provides the artisan with enough money to pay for essential expenses, and enough to reinvest in their families and their communities. The business began with a humble start, working out of a friend's basement and has since grown to serve over 500 clients all over the country. Minga Fair Trade Imports works with retailers in more than 20 states, and many master artisans in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia.

One of the many products and materials that Minga features is Tagua. Tagua is also known as vegetable ivory since the dried and polished seeds are very similar to elephant ivory in appearance. The purchase of Tagua Seeds is an ecological incentive for preserving the rain forests. Tagua is a natural resource that can generate five times the income to an artisan than banana plantations or cattle ranches.

Andrés and Juanita currently live in the equatorial city north of Quito called Mitad del Mundo. For more than five years they have been working with Minga making beautiful jewelry with tagua, coconut, acaí and pambil seeds. Andrés learned his trade from his parents who also worked with tagua. They presently work with five families in Quito and six families on the coast who supply them with tagua and other materials. Andrés and Juanita then design and assemble the jewelry in their home.

Juanita says, “my goal was to buy a house,” which they have now done through the steady business and fair trade wages from Minga. In the future, she is looking to improve their house by building new bedrooms for their children.