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The Blue & Gray Press | May 25, 2018

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Handmade gifts give back

Handmade gifts give back

By ALYSSA DANDREA

With the holiday season just around the corner and gift ideas on the brain, a UMW student-run initiative called Esfuerzo de Amor is offering a unique and eco-friendly selection of clutches, earrings and headbands at affordable costs.

Esfuerzo de Amor is a project that began in the summer of 2008 by UMW alumna Rachel Mason on a trip to Honduras with campus club Students Helping Honduras (SHH).

While there, Mason taught some of the women to weave items out of recycled chip bags that once littered their community.

Students involved with SHH and La Ceiba, a micro-financing initiative and partner organization also started by UMW students, helped to develop Esfuerzo de Amor.

Now, it is a full-fledged, income-generating project that operates out of the UMW bookstore. It has a website and several retail locations in Virginia, including Frill Seekers in Richmond.

The female artisans receive 50 percent of the profits up front, which helps to support their families and community.

Senior Megan Higgs, the project leader since last spring, is busy communicating with retailers, keeping an updated inventory and analyzing market trends to ensure the project’s continued success.

“It’s a ton of work, but it’s completely worth it,” she said. “The fact that my work here as an undergrad is actually helping these people is an absolutely amazing opportunity.”

Shawn Humphrey, professor of economics, has been assisting with Esfuerzo de Amor from the beginning, working with the students of SHH and La Ceiba to continue the project’s growth.

“It’s an unparalleled education opportunity to actually run a business that creates a difference in the community,” he said.

Humphrey knows, however, that clutches and headbands can’t carry the project. New products must be developed to keep Esfuerzo de Amor alive.

Senior Benjamin Saunders traveled to Honduras last summer and, in a series of meetings with the Honduran women involved, discussed prices and the adoption of a system to integrate new products into the line, such as purses, picture frames and place settings.

“We’ve got to keep pushing for new ideas so that we can continue selling products here in Fredericksburg,” said Saunders.

As a developing nation, Honduras is extremely poor and its people are impoverished.

“Things are rough down there,” said Humphrey. “This project creates income for the artisans which is badly needed.”

For all involved in Esfuerzo de Amor, helping those less fortunate is the most important issue at hand.  As an affiliate, Saunders said the La Ceiba organization must continue to educate people on the benefits that equal trade offers to global welfare.

“UMW students are so great because they understand the difficulties that these women face,” said Saunders. “They are willing to pay the extra dollar for a sustainable trade relationship.”

As a project that promotes both economic stability and environmental sustainability, Esfuerzo de Amor encompasses many concerns of the present generation.

For now, Humphrey has high hopes for the future of Esfuerzo de Amor.

“We’d like to transform this into a social business,” said Humphrey.

He maintains, however, that it’s the students’ job to take it to such a level. Higgs is ready for the challenge.

“For the future, my main goal of the project is definitely sustainability,” she said. “I want to make sure these women can continue to have a stable income to provide food, medicine and more for their families.”

For Saunders, a sense of fulfillment on many levels is what keeps him involved with and supportive of Esfuerzo de Amor.

“Having studied economic development as an undergraduate for the past three years has put me firmly in the mindset that collaborative creation is one of the greatest ways humans can support each other,” he said.