By Tamjid Alkohali
As part of the five-years of the Competitive Agriculture Systems project (CASH), Aid to Artisans (ATA) organized a Holiday Gift Fair exhibition founded by USAID in cooperation with Land O’Lakes on December 13th.
The event featured new products by Yemeni hands such as ornaments, palm basketry, home decor, jewelry, ceramics, furniture, women’s accessories, as well as a photo gallery for press photographer Hayat Al-Sharif, which included a set of images with a Yemeni character.
In the exhibition, the director of Program Management and Development, Monika Steinberger, expressed her happiness for being in Yemen for the second time in order to implement a new event within the CASH project that continued for five years to improve Yemeni crafts.
She said, “Every time I am in Yemen, I surprised by new things and its beautiful heritage. It’s a beautiful country that has friendly people who make me feel that I’m with my family. In my experience, I have realized that foreigners are most welcome in Yemen.”
According to Steinberger, the immediate goal of the ATA project is to link Yemeni artisans to the foreign market through turning Yemeni crafts from local products to global products.
“Usually, Yemeni artisans work long hours making their crafts that they sell for at least $50. This is considered a high price for Yemenis and foreigners as well. Therefore, through ATA program, trainers from America give ideas for Yemenis artisans to be able to make simple and beautiful hand crafts with less time and cost,” she explained.
Steinberger added that they also train them to market their products in the Gulf States and other foreign countries.
Steinberger confirmed that this is only the beginning and there are still many events to improve Yemeni crafts and link them with the global market. She added, “Sometimes the situation in Yemen impedes the implementation of the plan, like the difficulty of bringing American designers to Yemen, but that doesn’t mean we will stop. We continue with the help of Yemeni designers by sending them ideas and then they train many artisans in different provinces.”
The General Coordinator of the project, Hayat Al-sharif, said that the project got the attention of the culture and tourism ministries, representatives of local councils, artisans, and creative people.
She added that the program targets seven provinces, Ibb, Taiz, Rayma, Lahj, Ad Dali’, Dhamar, and Sana’a. “Actually ATA focuses on female artisans and trains them to add modern touches in their crafts with less effort, cost, and time. These modern touches would make bring crafts to an international level, and Yemeni traditional products are very popular abroad.”
The exhibition was attended by officials from the ministries of social services, agriculture, tourism and Yemeni businessmen as well as the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture, Mujahid al-Yateem, the UNDP, and the Dutch Embassy.
In addition to Yemeni hand crafts, Yemeni honey and coffee was a part exhibition as well as Tihamah’s dances.
At the end of August 2014, Aid to Artisans started its craft value chain development effort with a two-week craft sector assessment. The goal of this activity is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the craft value chain, and determine the needs for market-based product development, skills training and linkage to greater markets. One of the key objectives is to establish a local network of partners and engage a local project coordinator.
Monika Steinberger who was born in Austria, came to Aid to Artisans and Creative Learning with extensive experience as a top corporate sales and marketing executive in private industry. During her years in architectural and interior design, she headed prestigious branding campaigns in the textile and furniture industries and spearheaded sales and marketing efforts for new home décor products in the US, Europe, and Latin America. She became committed to working with artisans during her involvement with custom furniture makers and painters in Argentina, producers of custom interiors of yachts in Brazil, stonemasons in China using 15th century handcrafting techniques, and French marquetry artists creating wall décor from sustainable woods. At Aid to Artisans, Monika has led many craft development projects, among them in Haiti and the greater Caribbean region, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Morocco.