The coiled Ugandan baskets and woven trays seem to glow in the warm cedar-paneled living room of the Filberg Lodge.
Their precise construction and geometric designs flow in exotic curves, introducing into the silvery November afternoon colours and textures from far away.
Echoing the esthetics of the East African homeland where they originated, the baskets, along with vibrant textiles and bright beadworks, have come to Vancouver Island in a special one-day sale and exhibition hosted by the Filberg Lodge Gift Shop this Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
From the hands of talented Ugandan craftswomen, these artworks have crossed continents, oceans and cultures, thanks to the efforts of ACTS (African Community Technical Service Society), a Christian charitable organization based in Comox.
ACTS, founded in 1972 and based here since 1994, has as its mission to work with rural communities in East Africa to provide technical assistance and training in water supply, health education, environmental conservation, HIV/ AIDS awareness training and counseling, and humanitarian projects to assist the communities’ most vulnerable members. While mostly working in Uganda, ACTS has also worked with communities in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Sudan.
The organization has addressed socioeconomic issues in rural Uganda by supporting local artists and craftspersons through Fair Trade practices and marketing.
“For example, we purchase the baskets and artworks directly from Ugandan artisans,” says ACTS office manager Judy McPherson, “paying them 40 per cent above the price they would realize in the local marketplace.
“In this way, we are supporting rural women — mostly widows raising children — in not only feeding their families, but also in creating home-based, independent businesses for themselves that will generate sustainable incomes.”
Pippa Moore, a local quilter associated with ACTS, visited Uganda and taught women there to use sewing machines to do simple straight stitching projects. Her efforts paid off handsomely when a collective of 10 women formed the Bitengye Designers and began making simple bags and placemats, and then quickly advanced to producing finely crafted table runners and quilts of their own designs in brilliantly coloured batiks.
One Ugandan woman, Alice Asimwe, has become so successful that she founded a trade school to teach creating and marketing fibre arts. Asimwe now markets her work under her own label. Three other women are now working with her, learning to sew.
Young girls in the school have begun making multi-coloured beaded bracelets. The artworks are often identified by the names of the women who made them — an important connection between artist and consumer that underscores the concept of valued relationships in fair trade enterprises.
“As part of our mandate to support global fair trade efforts through dealing with local entrepreneurs,” says gift shop co-ordinator Val Graham, “we are thrilled to bring these amazing baskets, batik textiles, and beaded jewelry to the Filberg for one of our special Christmas openings. It is an outstanding opportunity for the Lodge and for the people of the Comox Valley to see and support rural Ugandan artisans.”
The Filberg Gift Shop and Lodge Ugandan fibreworks exhibition and sale features jewel-like beaded spiral bracelets, unique baskets of all sizes, shapes and colours, and blazing batik textiles made into bags, self-framed wall hangings and quilts. Prices range from $5 to $75.
The Filberg Lodge gift shop will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Nov. 25 to 27 and is offering free Christmas gift-wrapping for all purchases.
Plan to visit the Lodge the following Saturday, Dec. 4, to purchase fair trade coffees, teas and chocolates from World Community. This local organization purchases directly from a farmers’ co-operative that is working to develop a truly sustainable agriculture in the region of Pancasan, Nicaragua.
A portion of their profits also supports Atencion Primeria En Salud, a network of 180 rural primary health care providers, as well as a recycled bicycle project linking Nicaragua with Comox Valley residents.