Washington — Peace Corps volunteer Amy Wallace of Columbia, Missouri, and returned Peace Corps volunteer Natalie Mundy of Roanoke, Virginia, are helping silk weavers in Madagascar reach international markets to expand their business and provide steady income for their families.
Silk weaving in Madagascar is a tradition for Malagasy women, and in collaboration with Peace Corps volunteers focused on business and community development, they have established silk-weaving cooperatives that are generating income growth throughout the region.
With their success, the members of the cooperative have been able to pay their children's school fees, buy school supplies, address their family's health needs, build or repair their homes, and reinvest in their silk production.
"As a community economic development volunteer, I have been working with Federation Sahalandy trying to develop their independence as a business," said Wallace, a graduate of the University of Arkansas who has been living and working in Madagascar since February 2012. "Much of my role has been helping the group understand and adjust to the growth and new opportunities it has found in the United States."
A NEW MARKET IN NEW MEXICO
The annual Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, one of the largest folk art markets in the world, has given the cooperative a chance to sell its hand-woven scarves, shawls and wallets and connect with interested buyers, designers and consultants.
In the summer of 2013, Wallace and a representative of the Sahalandy group traveled to New Mexico to sell their products at the market. In three days, they sold more than 500 items for a total of more than $31,000 -- the Sahalandy's most successful visit to the market to date.
With the help of several returned Peace Corps volunteers, including Mundy and Dan Branch of Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, they also developed new relationships that have resulted in additional business for the Madagascar women.
"Since the market in Santa Fe this year, I have been working with Sahalandy to improve their organizational management through elections and restructuring committees," Wallace said.
"Sahalandy is also gaining its independence by learning computer and Internet skills, so they can receive orders and pictures via e-mail. The ultimate goal is to maintain Sahalandy's success abroad that started with Natalie [Mundy] and the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market."
Many of the group's members have become well-versed in financial planning and management through the development of their silk-weaving business and have taken on new roles in their community. When fellow community members are experiencing hardship or difficulties, they now look to women in the cooperative for advice.
"I really enjoyed watching the members of the group grow in confidence and realize their potential," said Mundy, who has been working with the women since she started her Peace Corps service in 2010.
Mundy recently returned to Madagascar to visit her host community and see the progress that has been made.
"I've seen a lot of drastic changes for Sahalandy compared to when I left in May of 2012," Mundy said. "The majority of the children are now in private school, and eight of them are on their way to studying in college this year."
Federation Sahalandy was the subject of a documentary filmed in 2012 titled The Silkies of Madagascar. The documentary was shown several times during the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. A photo essay on the weavers is available on the International Folk Art Market website.
There are 133 Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar working in the areas of education, agriculture and health. During their service in Madagascar, volunteers learn to speak Malagasy. More than 1,085 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Madagascar since the program was established in 1993.