Honduran Artisans Benefit From UMW Bookstore Sales

A partnership between the University of Mary Washington Bookstore and Students Helping Honduras (SHH) has generated more than $5,550 in revenue for two communities of Honduran artisans.

Since the partnership began in August 2009, more than 260 clutches crafted by 36 women from Siete de Abril and Villa Soleada, a new community built by SHH, have been sold. Artisans are paid upfront by SHH for their bags, and use the income to provide food, clean water and medicine for their children.

The project, titled Esfuerzo de Amor, began after UMW student Rachel Mason started teaching women in Siete de Abril to make clutches from recycled chip bags and soda labels as an eco-project to decrease the amount of trash burned in neighborhood streets.

She changed her focus to female empowerment after forming friendships with the women and witnessing their struggles with poverty.

Shawn Humphrey, assistant professor of economics, and SHH volunteers, including UMW student Ashley Cameron, then worked to expand the program into income-generating markets.

“I am really moved by how many students and community members pushed this project forward,” Mason said. “It’s like, you put a little positive energy and heart out there, and eventually people catch on and start running with you. It makes me feel really hopeful.”

The program also has become personal to hundreds of UMW students who during service trips to Honduras got to know many of the women who make the bags.

“The students return to UMW wanting to support those women and their families,” Russ Altenburg, former SHH chief operating officer. “That connection is unique and, coupled with the platform and support that UMW has provided at its bookstore, has enabled this program to really grow this semester.”

The initiative is spreading to other campuses. While UMW is currently the only school selling the clutches, the College of William and Mary, Georgetown University, Boston College, Boston University, Virginia Tech, Radford University, Hollins University and the University of Virginia have expressed an interest in making the clutches available on their campuses, Altenburg said.

Student intern Megan Higgs currently coordinates efforts between SHH and the bookstore. Past interns also have sold clutches at local events, including at a Fredericksburg Sierra Club meeting and at a St. James’ Episcopal Church Alternative Gift Market in Leesburg, Va.

Kathy Underwood, retail operations manager for the bookstore, said the UMW community is proud of the student effort.

“I am in awe of their drive, passion and success, and we all want to support SHH’s amazing efforts to improve the quality of life for families in Honduras.”

The clutches are available in three sizes. Prices range from $14.99 to $29.99 and are available for purchase at the UMW bookstore and on its Web site at www.umw.edu/bookstore. Click on Students Helping Honduras in the bottom right-hand corner of the page.

SHH was co-founded in 2005 by UMW alumnus Shin Fujiyama. The non-profit organization provides economic and educational support to communities in Honduras through fundraising and student service projects.