Fighting Poverty in Argentina

One habit I’ve picked up in my travels is, wherever I am, to always read a local newspaper. Somehow the people I pass on the streets become a little less like strangers and a little more like neighbors if I’ve read the same paper with my morning coffee as they read with theirs.

Yesterday I picked up a copy of the Buenos Aires’ daily La Nacion. The top headline read “Crece la controversia por el indice oficial de pobreza” or “Growing controversy about the official poverty index.” Apparently the National Institute of Statistics recently came out with new poverty stats saying 20% (or 8 million people) of Argentina’s population live in poverty. That’s a lot of people but it’s a fairly low stat for Latin America where many nations’ poverty levels exceed 50%. The controversy here is that statisticians in the private sector dispute these official numbers, saying there are an additional 4 million uncounted people living in poverty.

Either way the number of poor people in this wealthy country of Argentina is intolerable. I have had the privilege on this trip to meet some inspiring people involved in fighting poverty through comercio justo or fair trade. Earlier this week I visited Fundacion Silataj and Arte y Esperanza, and today I visited Arte de Pueblos. All three are non-profit organizations who work with indigenous groups to market their gorgeous handicrafts and to fund various community development projects. The products include warm ponchos and scarves from llama wool, eco-friendly wood pieces carved from fallen trees, handbags woven from the chaguar plant and beaded necklaces made from beautiful seeds. I was impressed by the variety of products and the quality. The traditional designs were unlike those I have seen in other Latin American countries.

I’ll return home with some new products for Bambootique but more than that I’ll return inspired by the people who work for these organizations, day in and day out, to improve the lives of those who are so skilled in their traditional work and yet live in poverty.

Dolores and Mercedes, two women who work with Fundacion Silataj to market the handicrafts of many of Argentina’s indigenous people.

Beautiful handmade ponchos and jackets

Arte y Esperanza Shop

Earrings made by Buenos Aires artisans from palo santo, an eco-friendly wood
These earrings will soon be available online from Bambootique
(Thanks Amy for modeling!)

If you’re visiting Argentina and want to purchase fair trade handicrafts, I highly recommend you visit one or all of these shops:

Fundaction Silitaj
Vuelta de Obligado 1933, Belgrano

Arte y Esperanza
Balcarce 234, San Telmo (just a few blocks south of the Casa Rosada)

Arte de Pueblo
Libertad 948, Retiro