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International agency helps fight poverty with handcrafts

An international agency is helping turn craft skills into incomes for impoverished rural families. Save the Children Federation Inc. has launched an effort to sell handcrafts that are made in Appalachia and in countries throughout the world.

The agency, which operates in 400 communities on five continents, has just this month opened the Save the Children Crafts Center at its world headquarters at 48 Wilton Road, Westport, Conn.

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The initial exhibition and sale of objects made by Appalachian Fireside Crafts, a Kentucky cooperative that has long been sponsored by Save the Children , is the first step of a far-reaching commitment to help artisans living in remote areas of the world market their wares.

Kenneth Philips, who heads development for the organization, estimates that the making and marketing of crafts could become a multimillion-dollar activity within the next five or 10 years. He envisions that it could include the establishment of Save the Children craft centers patterned after the Westport shop, in many large cities across the United States.

Artisans are paid for their products, and profits from the sale of the crafts will be plowed back into the agency's self-help programs around the world. Many families today are increasing their income from $200 to $1,000 or $2,000 each year through their crafts, sums that make a big difference when a family's yearly earnings average $4,000 or less.

Craft skills are usually passed down from generation to generation and are practiced by men, women, and children. The designs and the humble materials used, including cotton cloth, wood, clay, corn husks, and pine cones, reflect decades of tradition.

According to James S. Plaut, a Boston professional consultant to the craft program, "This is a unique effort for a private voluntary agency. It recognizes the phenomenal growth of appreciation for the crafts, and the still-expanding market for them.

"The market shows unlimited potential, but we must proceed slowly. Our agency field coordinators out in many lands must continue to help craftsmen upgrade their quality and encourage them to make the best things and the right things for the international market. And we must help them develop the nearby markets within their own countries. We have found that most third-world countries consume locally about 80 percent of their own crafts, and but 20 percent are channeled abroad."

Wherever the markets, the Save the Children craft program focus is on building more economic self-reliance. The agency has found that such projects offer in the long run far more hope of permanent solutions to problems than simply handing out cash gifts to children.

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Wherever the 300 field coordinators are helping to carry out craft programs, whether in the mountain hamlets of South America or the rural villages of Bangladesh, they work alongside people, assisting them in setting priorities, determining solutions, and then helping them carry out and evaluate their projects. "In such a way, when the aid is lessened or withdrawn, communities are left with a structure or a system that can continue to function for them," says Mr. Phillips. "They have learned how to plan and how to work together."

If the craft program grows as anticipated, Mr. Phillips envisions not only other satellite Save the Children craft centers but, in time, an extensive retail system through directmail catalogs.

The Save the Children Federation was begun in 1932 with a hot-lunch program and health clinics to help the impoverished people of Appalachia. Today, 48 years later, public and private, corporate, foundation, and government support for the agency has reached over $12 million a year. Of this total over 80 percent is funneled into an array of program services in all parts of the world.

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