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Originally published July 17, 2013 at 7:06 PM | Page modified July 18, 2013 at 6:40 AM

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At Burke, empowering women, one baby blanket at a time

An artisan market at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture will showcase the handicraft of women from around the world who work with artisan cooperatives to empower their communities. Five of the cooperatives have Pacific Northwest ties.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Event preview

‘Empowering Women’ Artisan Market

Demonstrations by artisans from Rwanda, Morocco, Laos, Nepal, India and Bolivia, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Burke Museum, University of Washington, Seattle (206-543-5590 or www.burkemuseum.org). In conjunction with the “Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities” exhibition, running through Oct. 27.

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Katlin Jackson was volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti when she realized how many children were there not because they don’t have parents but because their parents could not afford to keep them.

When Kari Davidson met Jackson at a weekend-long enterprise event in Seattle last winter, the two instantly connected. Jackson’s passion for Haiti and Davidson’s desire to use her design major to improve society blended together to form Haiti Babi, an artisan cooperative with a mission: to give moms jobs so they can keep their children.

The two women decided on a handmade product that someone with relatively low vocation levels could learn to make and that there is a market for in the U.S.

“We came up with the concept of baby blankets because we liked the idea of a mom making a product she could understand,” Davidson said.

Haiti Babi is one of five women-run artisan collaboratives from the Pacific Northwest featured alongside 10 others from the traveling exhibit “Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities,” at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture until Oct. 27.

Six of the cooperatives featured in the Empowering Women exhibit will be on hand to demonstrate their skills in basketry, printing, weaving and more at the Empowering Women Artisan Market, open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, July 20, and Sunday, July 21. Visitors will also be able to buy goods made by the artisans, with proceeds going directly toward supporting women in international communities.

Cooperatives from Rwanda, Morocco, Laos, Nepal, India and Bolivia will be among those represented at the market offering goods for sale.

While the cooperatives’ methods and specific goals vary, from “peace baskets” to garments to AIDS blankets, they all benefit women in developing areas, said Burke spokesperson Andrea Godinez.

“They each have different motives for doing their work, but the cooperative structure is extremely beneficial in helping them make differences — not just for themselves, but for their families and communities,” she explained.

The Gahaya Links Gooperative in Rwanda, for example, is an effort of both Hutu and Tutsi women that has helped heal the country from its 1994 genocide.

“It was up to the women to rebuild the country,” said Lace Thornberg, the Burke’s exhibit coordinator.

One of the Pacific Northwest-based cooperatives, Snow Leopard Trust’s Snow Leopard Enterprises, combines environmental activism with female empowerment.

Snow Leopard Trust is first and foremost a nonprofit dedicated to ending snow leopard poaching, said Gina Robertson, the trust’s product development and sales coordinator.

But many of the families who share the snow leopard habitat in the five countries where the trust works are herders who live on less than $2 per day. These herders sometimes resort to poaching snow leopards to earn extra money.

Through Snow Leopard Enterprises, local women sell handmade wool items, which can increase their household income by as much as 40 percent per year, according to the trust’s website, and relieve some of the economic hardship that leads to poaching.

“Women have said the program empowered them to feel they can help take care of their families,” Robertson said.

As for Davidson and Jackson, they want to expand Haiti Babi to more villages in Haiti, then possibly consider other countries.

“We are definitely looking to grow,” Davidson said. “The more women we can employ, the more we can empower and the more lives we can change.”

Hannah Leone: 206-464-2299 or hleone@seattletimes.com

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