Grand Circle Foundation’s efforts to support women’s cooperatives worldwide

A Message from Harriet Lewis

Here in America, we sometimes take for granted the ability we have to make the choices that shape our future. In some cultures, women especially are prevented by tradition or circumstance from pursuing their dreams. As I reflect upon the meaning of International Women’s Day, I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in life—to vote, work, even drive a car. I have always felt passionate about doing what I can to help women in developing countries achieve economic independence and realize their potential.

I’m proud that Grand Circle Foundation is able to contribute to the self-sufficiency of women worldwide, by supporting sustainable entrepreneurial projects that teach local women skills that can make a lasting difference in their lives. Here are just a few examples of our work in the countries where we travel.

— Harriet Lewis

Creative alternatives to tiger poaching in India

A world-renowned tiger sanctuary and conservation center is located in the deciduous forests of northern India: Ranthambore National Park. Some local tribes, however, turn to poaching simply to survive. To protect tigers and humans alike, an alternative and sustainable means of income is needed.

One of two projects we support in the region is the Dhonk Women’s Cooperative. Named for the tree that provides shelter for the park’s wildlife, Dhonk teaches both handicraft skills and conservation awareness. Grand Circle Foundation has supported this organization since 2014, providing electric sewing and embroidery machines, a power inverter with battery backup, water tanks, computers, and more.

Ranthambore was also the site of a community service project led by our South Asia regional office. Dastkar Ranthambore is a nonprofit crafts organization that was founded in 1989 in an effort to provide much-needed income to villagers who had been displaced by the creation of the tiger reserve. It used to be that, during the rainy season, the entrance to the Dastkar cooperative was flooded, making it slippery and difficult to access. Last summer, a Grand Circle team joined forces with Dastkar staff members to improve the landscape around the cooperative and reduce the possibility of flooding during heavy rains.

Goats and crafts in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, Grand Circle Foundation operates in areas surrounding the Ziga and Ngamo Primary Schools in Tsholotsho, both of which are schools the Foundation supports. Because these areas consist largely of vegetation favored by goats, we saw an opportunity for these communities to expand their income-generating resources. With the help of generous donations from O.A.T. travelers, last year Grand Circle Foundation provided women of the Ziga community with South African Kalahari Red male breeding goats, the materials to build goat pens and shelters, and the necessary medications and sanitary dips for the well-being of the goat herds.

The project is managed by the Ladies’ Goat-Rearing Committee, a group of 30 enthusiastic and committed local women. There is already demand for the meat and milk of the goat herds, and the much-needed extra income will support the committee members, their families, and the community at large.

Traditional handcrafts represent another source of income for local village women. Early last year, Grand Circle Foundation—along with our partner in Zimbabwe, Wilderness Safaris—held a three-day craft workshop for women from Tsholotsho. The workshop taught this motivated group of women sewing, knitting, beading, crochet, batik, tie-dye, weaving, and basketry. By the end of the workshop, the women returned home with the skills to both create beautiful handiwork and operate a business.

Another crafts initiative based in Tsholotsho is a knitting program we helped to establish. This initiative has taught community members to knit, crochet, and sew using donated materials and even “plarn”—a fiber manufactured from recycled plastic bags that is used to create bags, mats, and hats. The program is so successful, it has grown from five members to 25 in five years.

Weaving together a community in Laos

Grand Circle Foundation’s women’s cooperative initiative has also been extended into Southeast Asia. In 2011, we partnered with the Tin Keo School in the Laotian village of Tin Keo. Most of the children’s parents are rice, banana, or corn farmers or weavers. After the harvest, most of the men find jobs in the city to support their families, and, with their children in school, the women are often isolated and lonely. Grand Circle Foundation has supported the creation of a weaving center in the village, so that these women can earn income with their textiles, while also enjoying each other’s company and benefiting from the exchange of ideas, patterns, and techniques.

We’re proud to have had the opportunity to help develop self-reliant women in the communities supported by Grand Circle Foundation, who can now generate an income for their families.