Sara Gallman of Caledonia shows some of the wearable art hand-crafted by artisans in countries including Guatemala, India and Uganda for Noonday Collection. Noonday partners with artisan groups to provide living wages and support to vulnerable communities. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
July 5, 2014 11:02:19 PM
Sara Gallman lives in Caledonia at the end of a winding gravel drive, and next to a field of beautiful corn growing tall and straight. She goes to work every weekday at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park at Mississippi State University, then comes home to her husband, Tony, and three lively children -- JW, Michael and Katie Beth. A "typical" mom, doing what millions of other moms do.
What isn't immediately evident, though, is that Sara Gallman is frequently thinking of people far removed from Caledonia, Starkville or even America. People who live in huts, or have even been homeless. Some have been banished by their families because they are HIV positive; others are earning the first fair wages to ever cross their hands.
These people are, in essence, partners with Sara in building sustainable economic opportunities for some of the world's most vulnerable. Sara is a Noonday Collection ambassador, part of a team of women in this country who help develop a marketplace, through trunk shows, for the necklaces, bracelets, earrings, bags and scarves hand-crafted by women and men in countries such as Rwanda, Ecuador, India, Peru, Vietnam and Guatemala -- countries where paper, melted bullets and seeds are transformed into wearable art.
The network is empowering, she said.
"When you hear the stories, that's when you realize how different this is," explained Gallman, whose bachelor's degree from Mississippi State University and master's degree from the University of Alabama are in social work. "When I first heard about it, it was the stories that touched my heart; I love the mission behind it."
Noonday, established in 2010, partners with artisan groups in the developing world. By creating a market for those goods, the cottage industry has blossomed in a short time to provide dignified jobs in 10 countries at living wages, allowing artisans to support families and access health care and schooling. Noonday also offers no interest loans, makes advance payments on orders, and offers scholarship programs and emergency assistance. It donates a portion of sales to place orphans in forever families -- a mission close to the heart of its founder, Jessica Honegger of Texas.
"This all started when Jessica held a trunk show of handmade pieces to help raise funds to adopt a little boy from Rwanda," Sara explained. Having spent time in Kenya, Bolivia and Guatemala, Honegger had seen what life without adequate food, running water, toilets and decent housing looked like first-hand. She longed to somehow make a positive impact.
Noonday only works with artisan groups committed to operating in a manner in line with fair trade policies. Honegger or representatives make on-site visits to the partner groups every year, ensuring its artisans enjoy safe, healthy working conditions, free of child labor and forced labor. They assess wages to ensure they are consistent with living wage standards in their communities.
Laura Walton of Louisville became a Noonday ambassador after hosting a trunk show for a friend trying to raise money for an adoption.
"Within 30 minutes of her being here, I knew this was something I would like to do," said Walton, who went on her first mission trip to Haiti in 2012, with Fairview Baptist Church of Columbus. She's since been back eight more times. The trips changed her whole perspective about the world. "I felt like Noonday was a way to make an impact on global poverty in a way that's fun and that's easily digestible for people to understand. Noonday fit what was going on in my heart."
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A good number of the artisans' faces are familiar to Sara and Laura. Their stories are on Noonday's web site and in videos and newsletters. Some ambassadors visit artisans in their home countries and develop personal friendships.
"The Ethiopian group is definitely one that drew me in from the get-go," said Gallman. "I love their pieces, and I love the story behind them."
This special group near Addis Ababa live with the stigma caused by their HIV-positive status. They are some of the more than 700,000 people in Ethiopia who are HIV-positive, according to noondaycollection.com.
Many have migrated to Entoto Mountain. Tesfanish lives there. "Seventeen years ago, my husband and daughter contracted HIV and passed away," the Ethiopian woman shares in a video at the website. When Tesfanish later tested positive, her family sent her away to the mountain. At first hopeless, she is now on anti-virals and feeling significantly better.
The jewelry made of upcycled artillery by Tesfanish and her neighbors is among Gallman's favorites. "I love the idea of turning artillery into something beautiful," she said.
Tesfanish's determination is renewed: "I have the power to do anything now. By making jewelry, I'm able to earn a living."
One of Noonday's smaller partner groups is in Rwanda, where 12 women who were struggling to provide for their families completed six months of sewing training thanks to Noonday customers and friends. They now have new sewing machines and have formed a cooperative, where every member is an equal owner in the sustainable business.
These are just a few of the people represented by the vibrantly-colored paper bead necklaces, intricate earrings of melted ammo and fabric bags spread on Sara's dining table. Tagua seeds, water buffalo horn, silk, glass, metal -- the artisans use materials indigenous to their region. As Sara observed, no two pieces are exactly alike.
The Caledonia woman has become more conscious of how the power of purchasing can create change. While being part of the Noonday ambassador network can provide Sara with added income for her own family, the most gratifying aspect is being part of a larger picture.
"I feel like I'm playing a part, and that's big," she said.
Editor's note: For more about Noonday, visit noondaycollection.com or email Sara Gallman at [email protected]
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.