Mayasa, Nicaragua is known to locals and tourists as the place to go for arts and crafts. For generations Masayan families in the rural sector of the small city have been passing on the traits and skills required to produce crafts of varying size, shape, and delicate detail. Despite the artisans’ talents and the quality of these crafts, the impoverished artisans have struggled finding access to larger markets. I first learned of the Masayan artisans from my professor Winston Tellis during my Sophomore year, and I have been involved with their work ever since.
My name is Janet Latuga and I am a senior marketing major at Fairfield University. In the Spring of 2009 I was awarded a Corrigan scholarship which allowed me to work with Professor Tellis on this project. So what do I do? I purchase Nicaraguan crafts from the artisans and sell them at campus events. My goal was to sell these crafts and use the profits to re-order from the impoverished families in Nicaragua. The families are looking for a constant outlet in the United States, and I was going to try to give them this outlet.
In the Summer of 2009, I held my first event at the annual conference of the United States Justice Universities. Representatives from Jesuit Universities all over the country came to this conference, and my sales were a success. I started to think of ways to expand my sales, and I decided to sell the crafts during parents/alumni weekend. This time I ordered directly from the Masayan families, and I purchased a range of products that I thought would interest parents and students. The weekend was a huge success. I was soon invited to sell at a bazaar at St. Patrick Church in Farmington, CT. Although this was an older audience, the products I sold were well received by the people who attended. My greatest challenge was selling to students at Fairfield University a week before Christmas vacation. As a result of the shipping costs, the sale price ended up being quite high, and students did not want to buy anything that was too expensive. However, the students thought the products were exquisite, and they purchased them despite the increase in cost.
At all of my events I was asked if I had ever been to Nicaragua to meet the artisans, and at that point, I had not. However in February 2010, I traveled to Nicaragua to obtain first hand knowledge about the process the artisans go through. I first met with our contacts at Nitlapan, the microfinance institution that works with the artisans. Then I met with two Masayan families who create the crafts I bring into the United States.
While visiting the families, I learned about the process that they go through to get their materials. The clay, heralded as unique to the region, comes directly from the ground. Interestingly, I also learned how each family member has their own specialty in the process. One person would make the pottery on a pottery wheel and the next person would paint the design. It is a family process, and they even get their neighbors involved.
For just a few hours I got a glimpse into the lives of the artisans. I left Nicaragua with not only an understanding of their culture, but also an understanding of the hardships they face on a day-to-day basis. In the United States, we are privileged to have so many things that the artisans’ families are not afforded. We take for granted our hardwood floors and air conditioning, but these are luxuries that the artisans’ families are not afforded. Meeting these families made me see just how important the work I am doing really is, and it further encouraged me to accomplish my goal.
At the end of my junior year, I was encouraged to apply for The Emily C. Specchio Foundation’s Ambassador Grant. This grant is for young adults who are trying to make a difference in their community. Besides mentoring and brainstorming, the Foundation matches my fundraising 2 to 1. I knew that this was just what I needed to help get my project off the ground and accomplish my most necessary goal – sustainability. It is a goal that I have been exploring with faculty members and student groups alike. I want to leave the students who take over my project with enough capital to keep this project/non-for-profit business running indefinitely at Fairfield University.
I hope you will follow me through the year as I continue along this process…
Thanks for visiting!