Always smiling – the weavers of Nepal deserve a break
Matthew Wailes specialises in designing and producing rugs for the interior design market. He has a close working relationship with his long-standing manufacturing partner in Nepal, which hand-knots his rugs.
I visited Nepal in late November with friend and colleague John O’Callaghan from O’C Carpet of New York. A lightning visit of just four days before travelling onto Hong Kong. It was the first time I had been over since the major earthquakes in April 2015. We met up with my producer and discussed various new projects, including the possibility of selecting some new designs for conversion into rugs. These had been entered into a competition by local artists.
We toured several weaving and washing facilities in the Kathmandu Valley. Thankfully, rebuilding and repairs have been made and here the visible damage from the earthquake appeared relatively small.
However, the awful events earlier in the year caused enormous destruction, both physically and emotionally. Whilst it seemed that everyone had been affected in one way or another, by the loss of loved ones, their homes or livelihoods, we were astonished at the resilience and resolve of the Nepalese people we met. And as ever, they gave us such a warm welcome.
Our weaving partner in Nepal found itself homeless after the second earthquake – the office building and in-house weaving facilities were condemned. It was of vital importance to the whole weaving community that they were able to re-commence business fast and so they had to find new premises.
Following the quakes, it seems that one of the biggest issues for the weaving community was attracting workers back. Some had left Kathmandu to return to their local communities – sometimes very remote. Not surprisingly, many were rather nervous about returning to a city which had seen such devastation, not once but twice! During the last few months, part of my responsibility has been to help my friends and associates in Nepal by assuring customers that their orders would be fulfilled, albeit with some inevitable delays. Thankfully, we are now largely back to normal lead times.
It was quite astonishing to see the strength and resolve of the Nepalese people. But now they are facing another crisis. A political dispute between India and Nepal is resulting in crippling border blockades, badly affecting the basics of life, including food, fuel and medical supplies, and the availability of raw materials and fuel for transportation. Once again, their lives and livelihoods are being affected by forces beyond their control.
Whilst in Kathmandu, we took the opportunity to visit GoodWeave’s office and Hamro Ghar, its transit centre for rescued child labourers. We are a GoodWeave licensee and I rely on its local inspectors to randomly check that no children are ever used to make our rugs. All our rugs are GoodWeave labelled and numbered. I was particularly keen to visit Hamro Ghar; children rescued from the looms live here if it is not possible to reunite them with their families.
There are around 40 children housed within the facility and the efforts that GoodWeave has made here cannot be praised highly enough. The building was damaged by the quakes but the children are safe and receiving wonderful care; they are a great credit to this organisation. The earthquake has caused major deprivation and many weaving families are no longer able to afford to pay for their children’s education. To help them, GoodWeave has stepped in and will be paying for schooling for around 500 participating weavers’ children.
The children were so appreciative of simple gestures such as giving them a few bags of sweets.
It was an intense few days. I found visiting GoodWeave’s transition camp particularly moving. As the sun set, we stood on the roof and took time out to reflect on what we had seen and to discuss how we could be of further help.