By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
HANDICRAFTS created from coconut are one of the most common items made by Bahamian craftsmen. A workshop hosted by the Exuma Crafters Network (ECN) exposed participants to a myriad of ways coconut crafts can be properly manufactured.
An initiative designed by the Crafters Network involves empowering women economically through training and skills development.
The ECN started two years ago and is made up of a group of women in the handicraft industry. They decided to start the network as a team to improve their economic conditions and showcase the talents of the women of Exuma.
The ECN was formed under the 18 month project called the Exuma Woman Project funded by the United Nations Women (UN Women) organisation and managed by the Inter-American Institute for the Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
The group is led by Martha Hanna-Smith, a native of Acklins island.
UN Women is dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. As a global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their rights worldwide.
According to Shacara Lightbourne of the (IICA), the ECN intends to carry out its goals by educating and developing the skills of the women. Through theoretical, practical and specialty workshops they seek to also preserve the Bahamian craft culture.
In keeping with its goal ECN hosted the coconut workshop and several other programmes. The workshop involved instruction on the proper use and maintenance of tools for the manufacturing of coconut jewellery and crafts.
Participants were also exposed to product designs, packaging of products, preparation of the raw material, the art of product display and safety in the work space.
The ECN held additional workshops in the past that assisted participants with writing skills.
“The women have also had a project management and grant writing workshop where they learned all the components of a project, how it should be implemented and how to find international grant funding for their projects and their own individual businesses,” said Ms Lightbourne.
The highlight of the workshop was session on the importance of record keeping in a business to be able to show accountability when applying and receiving grant funding. Upcoming workshops will include coconut craft, labelling, marketing and packaging, use of innovative raw material, marketing and entrepreneurship and shell crafts, said Ms Lightbourne.
She said workshops are important because they show women the opportunities available to them in the Exuma craft industry.
“It will decrease the need to import handicraft items in the country; it creates jobs through entrepreneurship and it preserves our craft culture and heritage. IICA hopes that this project in Exuma will be a pilot project that can be duplicated on other islands of the Bahamas to empower women everywhere,” she said.
Recently, four industrial sewing machines, bench grinders, dremmel kits and other craft tools from the IICA were donated to the Exuma Crafters Network. A demonstration was done by Phil Stubbs, of Phil’s Sewing Machines to introduce the women to the sewing machines, how to use them to their full potential. The women were also taught proper maintenance techniques.
President of ECN Martha Smith who received the grant on behalf the ECN thanked UN Women and IICA for its support.