A rainy night in Chennai

rainy nightA rainy night in Chennai and we’re looking for a slum. There is a fair trade organisation I had heard about which employs women making great looking products from recycled materials. I had made contact with the manager, Mr P some months earlier and he had sent me images of the products and I was determined to find the place.

I had met up with my daughter, Georgia, and together we headed off to find the slum on the other side of the city. Our transport, an autorick, with its open sides did not protect us much from the tropical downpour and we were getting quite wet as our vehicle groped along the sides of the highway looking for the entrance to the slum, which, we were assured, was easy to find. I didn’t realise that autoricks don’t have windscreen wipers, so a rainy night on a busy ill-lit Indian roadway is not a lot of fun! We called Mr P often but it was not much use as the phone cut out at inconvenient times and the noise from the vehicle, the traffic and the rain drained out most of the sporadic conversations. We had to depend on our driver and local knowledge.

Slums are not conveniently sign-posted and it seems that this one was not high on the local knowledge register. So, after much stopping for directions, some of which turned out to be red herrings, and a stint where the driver got out of the vehicle and pushed it along the side of the road, avoiding the scrutiny of the police hanging about (apparently we could ‘walk’ the auto-rick, in that spot, but not drive it) we finally found the entrance. Executing a hairpin bend from the off-ramp of a bridge into a street where electricity apparently didn’t exist, narrow and fringed with make-do dwellings and everything black and shiny in the wet night, we crawled along skirting the potholes and pedestrians until someone waved us down. We were there!  This was Mr P’s assistant who had been looking out for a rickshaw with a couple of foreigners inside. We were the only ones, so his job was easy.  It had only taken an hour and a half to travel the ten kilometres across Chennai. Happy to have finally found the place, and leaving instructions for the driver to wait for us, we hurried after our guide on foot through narrow lanes filled with people curious about the two strangers in their midst.

Mr P was all smiles as we walked through the door and proudly showed us the catalogue and several rooms filled with colourful, desirable and sometimes crazy items made from recycled plastic, newspaper, posters and fabrics. It was difficult to choose our order, but finally settled on some sturdy and colourful market baskets in several sizes from small to humungous, some cheeky aprons featuring faces of famous Bollywood actors, and some cute padded i-Pad pouches made from posters. Hope you like them as much as we do!

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We also learned more about the organisation from Mr P and we like what we heard. Their  Fair Trade standards include:

  • Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers, particularly socially marginalized women;
  • Promoting fair trade and paying fair prices to their makers;
  • Always paying for orders to the makers in advance so that they do not need to go into debt to purchase raw materials;
  • Giving priority to women;
  • Opposing child labour;
  • Providing good working conditions.

We met some of the women in the project who kindly demonstrated their age-old weaving skills using funky new recycled materials. We are so happy to have found this great organisation and hope to do lots of business with them in the future.

If you value genuine fair trade practices like we do, please tell your friends about KASU EMPORIUM. We go out of our way (in all weather!) to find products that are creating livelihoods for people. In addition, as always, at lease 10% of every sale is donated to someone in need.

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Padded i-Pod pocket made from recycled posters

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Hand woven market baskets made from recycled plastic

A preview of some of the products made by the women in the Chennai slum: coming soon to KASU EMPORIUM

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