A Blog from the Executive Director of In Exchange, Katie Schmidt
This summer, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit India. I decided to go to India to buy fresh new products for the store, to see first hand the work that the artisan groups are doing and how our purchase is benefitting the artisans and their families. I was in India for 5 weeks and the most impressionable thing for me about India was the amount of people. India definitely has a problem with overpopulation from the crowded streets of Delhi to the mountains in the North. At times it was a little overwhelming and after a week over there, I remember hoping to get just 5 minutes of quietness, with no sounds of people or cars honking. But one of my Indian friends said that despite population problems, they are always willing to accommodate one more. And India was without a doubt accommodating to me.
I started my visit in Delhi, then to Bhopal, Mcleodangj (the North) and finally to the state of Rajasthan and everywhere I went I was well taken care of. I was amazed by the variety of cultures that India has. With an ancient history, one could spend years studying all the textiles and art forms.
In bustling Delhi, I had a list of fair trade stores, but I only had their respective address and Delhi is big, so it was a challenge. I took the metro, got off at the nearest stop, called for an auto rickshaw driver, who didn’t always take me to the right place and then I sweated profusely in the 105 degree weather and praised the fair trade gods when I found the right location.
In Bhopal, I worked with a small workshop where I designed dresses for the store. At this workshop, they employ poor village women to do the hand embroidery. This embroidery work is one of the few jobs these women can do, because it allows them to work from home, which means that they can take care of the family and household while still earning an income that helps them feel empowered and self sustaining.
In the north of India, in Mcleodganj, not only did I see beautiful mountains, but I was able to visit the Louisiana Himalayan Association, which has helped bridge the gap between U.S. volunteers and Tibetan refugee aid since 1977. I purchased several products in Mcleodganji that are made by the Tibetan refugees. This purchase helps support their income and their unimaginably tough journey of relocation from their homeland to India.
In the state of Rajasthan, I visited a rural village that practiced organic farming. They are working hard on getting their FDA approval for the U.S. And lastly, my favorite part was that I got to learn first hand the ancient art of hand block printing using vegetable dyes. It was all absolutely magnificent and I hope you can continue to follow our blog where I will be posting more stories about India.