“I asked her if she knew how to make something traditional … and it was beautiful,” D’Wol said. About 15 such corsets will be available at the market, but D’Wol said pricing had not yet been set.
Kuojok’s trip to Santa Fe will be only her second time to leave South Sudan; her first trip was to Nairobi to get a visa.
She will also bring beaded work from artisans from other tribes represented by the Roots Project.
D’Wol said the Roots Project not only helps women learn to take care of themselves and establish a business sense, but is also helping to revive traditions that have gotten lost in two decades of war.
“When I first started working with the women, it was ‘What do you know how to make?’ I had no idea what they were. They are not documented and many of the items are rarely even worn by the tribes anymore.”
A similar project in Afghanistan, Kandahar Treasures, is giving financial freedom to women who do the traditional geometric embroidery unique to the area. Started by Rangina Hamidi, an Afghan whose family fled war to the United States when she was a child, the project now has more than 400 women selling products.
Some of the women earn up to $100 a month, which is almost double the average government salary. Homes with mothers and daughters participating have dramatically improved their family’s economic standing, and given women more control over their lives.
“One of the women has 13 daughters,” Hamidi said. “In a country where manhood is so great, any woman who gives birth to that many daughters is cursed. Now that they have been earning money for almost nine years … they have risen themselves out of poverty. They are no longer invited as servants to weddings and parties, they are invited as guests.”
Some of the artists are well established, but this year, 40 percent will be showing at the market for the first time.
Cerny and Espinar say the market has become a destination, drawing visitors last year from 26 states.
“More and more people are looking at they do as a vote for what they care about,” said Cerny. “… They are getting the idea that they are helping build a school in Pakistan, helping put a roof on a women’s shelter.”