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Hammocks sold to help Nicaraguan artisans

Brian McKenzie | Friday, November 16, 2007

Students looking to spruce up their dorm rooms and help Nicaraguan artisans can purchase hammock chairs today from Artisan Opportunities International, Inc. (AOI).

The chairs are designed to fit in a dorm room and are available in blue-and-white and multi-colored. Students can also purchase larger, “matrimonial” hammocks, large enough for two adults, through the AOI’s Web site.

AOI is working to improve living conditions for artisans in Nicaragua.

“We can make a difference” in the lives of Nicaraguan artisans, AOI co-founder senior Brian Brownschidle, said. “It may seem like a small amount of money here but it can make a tremendous difference in the lives of these people,” he said.

AOI’s efforts have won the 2006 Student Opus Prize, affiliated with the Opus Group, a national real estate development company that rewards individuals for combining entrepreneurship with a fight against social injustice. It also won Gigot Center’s Best Undergraduate Business Plan competition.

Brownschidle said the market for artisans in Nicaragua is too small to provide them with living wages. AOI has helped the artisans sell abroad. All of the proceeds from the hammock chair sale will return to the artisans and their communities, he said.

Sophomore Tina Tovar went on a trip to Nicaragua to help study how AOI proceeds could be spent most effectively. “We did a lot of research on the greatest needs of the artisans to determine how to reinvest the money,” she said.

“We personally spoke with the artisans and compared their greatest needs with what was most economically feasible. We wanted to have a sustainable, long-term effect on their lives,” Tovar said.

The group eventually decided to provide materials to replace roofs, she said.

“With a very small amount of money, we were able to re-roof all of our artisans’ homes,” Brownschidle said.

Junior Christy Essay, another AOI member that went to Nicaragua, said in the future, the organization plans to focus on education.

“Our artisans live all over the city, so it’s a difficult issue,” she said. “I think we’ll end up giving supplies or uniforms, but we don’t have any definite plans yet.”

Brownschidle said logistics issues are also difficult. Also, he had to study solutions to ensure that the proceeds made a difference for the artisans.

Brownshidle stressed that the organization had two separate components, maximizing profit like a company, and maximizing social return like a charity.

“But we’re not a charity organization,” Tovar said. “Since we’re a small organization, it wouldn’t be sustainable to keep giving food and water rather than something with a lasting impact.”

The chairs will be sold for $45 at the South Quad flagpole from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Fieldhouse Mall from noon to 6 p.m. today.