As the flood of #MeToo stories continue to inundate our media with horrific stories of sexual assault and harassment, Alison van Diggelen was relieved to cover an uplifting story of women empowerment on assignment for the BBC World Service. California-based Rising International was conceived in response to the draconian sexual apartheid of the Taliban. One brave woman in Afghanistan asked herself: what would I do if I was not afraid? And one energetic woman in Santa Cruz was inspired to create a local uprising and launch a global movement.
“She felt they were saying to her: you’re less than a human being because you’re a woman! Jamila Hashimi is her name…she’s my hero. The Taliban had declared women under house arrest, so they were not allowed to leave their homes…to learn to read or write. She started a secret school… even though she knew of teachers who’d been killed on the streets… She inspired me to get involved. We started in Afghanistan with Jamila creating a craft project and now 27 countries later we’re working with Jamilas all over the world.” Carmel Jud, Founder of Rising International
Photo: Djide Koffa, a soulful singer from Cameroon, volunteers for Rising International
Ready for an uplifting story? Listen to the BBC Business Matters podcast (My report starts at 17:25)
Or listen to the special extended length Fresh Dialogues segment below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation and a longer version of the BBC report (edited for length and clarity):
BBC Host, Fergus Nicoll: Being abused, being trafficked – having little or no access to education – are not, you might think, the best preconditions for business success. But one group of marginalized women in California is turning adversity on its head. They’re selling handmade goods – made by women living in the poorest and most dangerous places in the world – and it’s doing well. Alison tell us about the Rising Home Party.
Alison van Diggelen: That’s right Fergus – I recently attended one of these parties. Friends and family gathered in a home in Silicon Valley to buy arts and crafts from around the world. These events are a key part of Rising International’s strategy. They aim to help end poverty from the comfort of your living room and empower what they call, “a global sisterhood of survivor entrepreneurs.”
Here’s the report:
Alison van Diggelen: Dining room tables are covered with boutique-quality gifts, handcrafted by women survivors of war, gender-based violence, and human trafficking. Each item comes with a tag telling the story of the artisan, giving her a voice in the world. Carmel Jud, who founded Rising International 15 years ago, told me what inspired her:
Carmel Jud: I got to meet a woman who shared her story: she woke up to a radio broadcast… the Taliban had taken over and declared women under house arrest, so they were not allowed to leave their homes, weren’t allowed to learn to read or write. She felt they were saying to her: you’re less than a human being because you’re a woman! Jamila Hashimi is her name…she’s my hero. She started a secret school… she was sneaking girls into her basement even though she knew of teachers who’d been hung, killed on the streets… She inspired me to get involved. We started in Afghanistan with Jamila creating a craft project and now 27 countries later we’re working with Jamilas all over the world.
Alison van Diggelen: How does the organization choose its projects?
Carmel Jud: We go where it’s the hardest to be alive as a woman…the DR Congo where rape is used as a war tactic… We look to see: where’s that happening the most and how can we tell their story? We always find they’re making something beautiful even in the midst of tragedy…It’s almost like the craft is the messenger.
Photo: Carmel Jud, Rising Intl Founder explains her vision as Devin Gonzales looks on.
Alison van Diggelen: But Rising International is not a charity like Oxfam. Its business model is based on the intimate home party model, popularized by Avon, Tupperware and Pampered Chef. What makes it different from other non-profits – like Ten Thousand Villages – is that the people selling the goods are in duress or marginalized themselves. Rising International trains economically vulnerable women to run their own home party businesses. Some are human trafficking survivors. They earn an income selling crafts for their 4500 global sisters. One day they hope to reach one million vulnerable women…
Carmel Jud: We’re inviting women who’re suffering here into our economic empowerment program. We even go into homeless shelters here to train the women to be “Rising Entrepreneurs” and they learn to sell the beautiful things that are made by the global entrepreneurs. Imagine that every time a woman in a shelter sells a scarf she’s helping someone in another continent rise above poverty while she rises above poverty.
Alison van Diggelen: Devin Gonzales is a 21-year-old single mother from Watsonville, an agricultural community on the edge of Silicon Valley. She now works as a rep for Rising International, and gets 20% of the gross sales from the crafts she sells.
Devin Gonzales: I was born into a home where there was a lot of abuse, drugs, and I was put into the foster care system. I was moved around a lot: Santa Cruz, San Jose…Salinas. I got trained to become a Rising Rep where I could host home parties and sell these crafts that women have made all over the world. I absolutely feel a connection with these women. Women are really being beaten and broken down and the “human” is being taken out of them so they feel like they don’t have any worth. When I see women fighting for women they’ve never even met…It’s so powerful for me. I feel like I’m best friends with that girl in the basement who’s waiting for someone to rescue her…
Alison van Diggelen: She could be talking about Catie Hart, who’s now part of the Rising International team. She was trafficked and made to work in a strip club in SF for seven years. Now, with the organization’s help, she’s an educator for social workers and community groups to teach how trafficking works and how to break free.
Catie Hart: 10 years ago, my life was in the gutter. I was so traumatized. I didn’t have any skills. Here I am 10 years later, living a life that’s full of joy, connection and happiness.
Alison van Diggelen: I ask one of the home party attendees, Shannon McElyea what she bought…
Shannon McElyea: Today I bought a Safe and Sound bracelet. These are for protecting against human trafficking, made by human trafficking survivors who’re easing into making a living…they come out of poverty and homelessness.
Alison van Diggelen: The non profit recently showcased a short film (a joint venture between Impact Creative and Oculus, VR for Good) that documented the entrepreneur-survivors in Haiti “connecting” and interacting digitally with Silicon Valley. Virtual Reality (VR) is being described as “an empathy machine” and it seems to be working for Devin Gonzales:
Devin Gonzales: When I hear these women’s stories…the ambition, the courage inside of them. I would do anything in the world to support them, it’s contagious…. They’re breaking doors down, their education, their children. That’s all it takes: awareness, support and education.
Alison van Diggelen: Back at the party, I talk to 18 year-old Shreya Roy who’s trying out the VR goggles…
Shreya Roy: There’s a woman standing in the forest talking about how she became a representative for RI and she sells scarves from Haiti…and they just transitioned to Haiti and it’s the women making the crafts as their little children play on the side….The money she makes helps her…they craft it from their hands, they’re using things in nature like leaves and they incorporate that into their art.
Atmos: African singing, guitar…
Alison van Diggelen: Djide Koffa (Pron: Gina), a singer from Cameroon volunteers her time to support Rising International. What motivates her to be involved?
Djide Koffa: Women’s rights are human rights, and that’s so true, because life starts with us, it’s that simple…(laughter)
Djide Koffa soaring, singing and fade out…
Continue listening to the BBC podcast hear our discussion on Rising International, the challenges of Artificial Intelligence and Tesla’s money woes.
Check out other BBC reports and interviews with inspiring women