ATA Revives Djiboutian Heritage

This spring, Aid to Artisans continued its Artisans Women Initiative in Djibouti by conducting 2 product development workshops in Ali Sabieh and Tadjourah. This initiative is the second phase of our Job Promotion for Youth in Crafts project (PROPEJA) project. Funded by the World Bank and the Japanese Government, through the Agence Djiboutienne de Dévelopement Social, the project has provided practical skills training and access to finance for over 3000 youth and women living in poor communities in Djibouti-ville, Arta, Tadjourah, and Ali Sabieh.

A workshop training artisans in beading and basketry was conducted by ATA consultants Caroline Winckel and Binky Newman. The workshop successfully engaged artisans from remote areas to create new designs and products using local raw materials. The workshop’s goal was to develop new product lines for the U.S., French, and Japanese military communities in Djibouti. The two eight-day workshops at Ali Sabieh and Tadjourah, trained 130 artisans. Seventy specialized in beading, sixty focused on basketry.

Caroline Winckel’s workshop was inspired by the colors of Djibouti. “Walking through the city, and the regions, you will find a palette of colors of local inspiration. I took inspiration from the colors of women, painted wall, facades of homes and local resources such as stones and pearls. For forms, I first looked at what existed and tried to adapt them to the most contemporary”. For example, Caroline was successful in re-purposing traditional wooden combs of Sabieh and transforming them into pendants.

Caroline observed that the Ali Sabieh artisans took to new design easily and were quick to learn. These women artisans needed to appreciate themselves in a new role– It was a challenge. “While it was more difficult to develop an idea, after several days they gained confidence and began to understand that it may be better to try incorporate new designs and forms that are faster to make and easier to sell”.

Caroline also expanded the artisans’ product line to embroidered evening gowns, incorporating new value by adding details to enhance the hand made products. “The idea is to create a story or one that will pull the customer toward the product that tells its own story”.

“It was an honor and privilege for me to work with such talented weavers. I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with them and greatly appreciated their commitment and readiness to adapt to new ideas. The women in both areas exhibited excellent technical skills. My focus was very much on refining the skills, i.e. the stitches and weaves that already existed. We also made some baskets with the embroidery technique. This is an area that could be further developed” commented ATA consultant Binky Newman.

The biggest achievement of the workshops was a fair held in Camp Lemonier, the base of operations for U.S. Africa Command. This was the first time ATA focused on military personnel and their spouses as customers. The Ali Sabieh were particularly successful with their baskets, with sixty-nine sold. New designs and colors in beadwork attracted customers and resulted ninety-nine pieces being sold.

Building on our success at Camp Lemonier, ATA is organizing local exhibits and forming market linkages. We are helping women artisans establish relations with the Japanese embassy, Sheraton hotel and French institutions for future events. Moreover, tourist offices in Djibouti are adding authentic handmade Djiboutian crafts in their gift shops.

“There is an intangible heritage, a wealth of craft skills and culture and the greatest strength of artisans is the talent and their openness to adapt that persists” said Caroline Winkler. With support and encouragement from the government, design training as well as sales at local exhibitions, fairs for expatriates and tourists, Djiboutian artisans are set to thrive and preserve their craft heritage.