Whether they’re family heirlooms, travel souvenirs, or handmade by your kids, ornaments are among the most personal holiday decorations we put up every December. Some ornaments, however, have an even deeper significance: They save lives.
Enter Ornaments4Orphans, an organization that pays East African artisans—including disabled men and widowed women—a fair, reliable wage to handcraft ornaments and other accessories. Take for instance Yeko, a Ugandan artist who was disabled by polio at a young age. Today, Yeko is able to support his entire family doing what he loves. His ornaments—made from bark cloth, natural grasses, and recycled materials—are sold through Ornaments4Orphans to collectors and holiday enthusiasts around the world.
Yeko is just one of roughly eighty artisans working with the organization. Their jobs are not only fulfilling but also allow these individuals to pay rent, feed their families, afford medicine, and send their children to school.
To see this come together is a dream come true for husband-wife team Scott and Jamie Laslo, who started Ornaments4Orphans in 2010. The idea came together after the Laslos spent years working with a non-profit orphanage in Uganda. The charity dollars they helped raise went toward supporting orphaned children, but the work wasn’t getting at the root of the problem—that is, preventing kids from becoming orphans in the first place. “Kids age 18 and younger make up more than half the world’s population,” says Scott. Indeed, UNICEF estimates there are some 132 million orphans worldwide, and these kids are at risk for trafficking, abuse, starvation, and psychological disorders.
In providing higher wages and steady employment for people living in vulnerable communities throughout Africa, Ornaments4Orphans is able to help lower the chances of poverty for adults and their children, and in turn generations to come. “Our artisans are able to send their kids to school, which is slowly going to help these countries out of poverty,” says Scott. “It’s really incredible to see it happening.”
Currently, Ornaments4Orphans artisans are able to earn up to $5 a day. According to the World Bank, that's more than double the estimated $2 per day average wage made by nearly 10 percent of the global population.
To support the beautiful work of Yeko and other artisans, head over to Thrive Market and pick out an extra-special ornament (or two) to hang on your tree this year.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho