After the devastating earthquake in Haiti this past week, thoughts around the world are turned to how we can help. Many agencies are trying valiantly to rush aid to Port-au-Prince. A list of U.S. organizations that you can donate to is here: http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/01/13/haiti.earthquake.how.to.help/index.html In Great Britain, an umbrella group has been formed to funnel aid where it is most needed: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8456730.stm
Immediate help for victims of disasters like this is critical, of course, but there is also a need for long term help for under served people all over the globe. This is where ZAP and KIVA come in.
I first heard of ZAP when I visited the Latimer Quilt Center in Tillamook. Their display at the time was of vibrantly colorful appliqued quilts from Zimbabwe... and the stories to go with them. I was fascinated. These works of art were made by indigenous women of a little rural area of Zimbabwe who had no other way to support their families. A European aid worker had begun an art project with these women many years ago and, eventually, an Oregon professor had become involved and started the Zimbabwe Artists Project to help market their wares.
Just recently, ZAP has begun selling the artwork from the women of Weya, Zimbabwe, on the internet. From note cards to appliqued panels to board and sadza (cornmeal porridge) paintings to amazingly intricate embroideries, the works tell of the lives of the subsistence farmers of Weya in colorful detail. Each artist writes out the story of the artwork and slips it into a pocket in the back. You can see the artworks and read more about ZAP here: http://zimbabweartistsproject.org/ And watch a great video showing the whole process here: http://zimbabweartistsproject.org/uncategorized/video/
A beautiful embroidered folktale about birds of Zimbabwe hangs in our living room. A colorful board painting of goats as part of village life decorates our bedroom. These artworks not only enliven our home, they make me feel closer to some remarkable women on the other side of the globe. Each piece of art comes with a photo and bio of the artist. Although their lives are vastly different from my own, I have learned from their paintings that we share interests in birds, trees, wildlife, goats and folk tales.
Also making the world smaller and friendlier is Kiva, a more recent organization with a quite different focus. Through the power of the internet, Kiva allows individuals all over the world to loan money to small businesspeople who otherwise could not qualify for a loan without outrageous interest rates. Kiva actually backfills loans made by microlenders. For as little as $25, you can help someone in Cambodia buy silk to make weavings, or in Azerbaijan to increase a pig herd, or in the Philippines to buy chickens for resale or even in New York City to increase a mobile phone inventory in a small shop. Little by little your money will be paid back. You may keep that money, donate to Kiva, or loan to someone else, which is what I do.
People around the world are struggling to support themselves and these loans give them a helping hand. In all the time I've been loaning to Kiva, I've never had a loan go unrepaid. The microlenders who screen these borrowers do a very good job. You can read more about Kiva here: http://www.kiva.org/ Of course, there are expenses involved in Kiva's operations and donations are welcome. You can also, with no expense to you, vote for Kiva this week in the Chase Community Giving contest and help them win money for their operating costs. More info on the Kiva website.
These gray days of January, with world news that often seems bleak, are made brighter and cheerier with the colorful artwork and lives of ZAP and Kiva friends around the world.