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Journey to a Flowering Desert: PART 1

The Flowering Desert Project in rural Southern India is run by Mercy Imondi of the Mahalir Aran Trust.

Mahalir Aran means “Women’s Fortress” reflecting the fact that the trust offers a safe home for over 100 of the most vulnerable women and children in the region. They give shelter, food, health and emotional care as well as education, training and opportunities for employment.

Situated in 40 acres of land they have established a farm, an office, three hostels, vocational training and production unit (Flowering Desert) In 2011 they opened a medical centre to provide health care not only for the residents of the hostels but also for the people of the local community.

Just Trade have been working with Mercy and the women of the Flowering Desert project since 2010, and since the initial training in jewellery techniques by designers Grace Pinner and Lottie Hughes, the project has grown from 8 women to 28 in order to keep up with the orders for our ever popular Temple Beads and April Showers Collection.

We were delighted, when Ruth Conway, a graduate from The School of Jewellery in Birmingham won the Louisa Ann Ryland Travel Award*, giving her funding to come with Grace and I (Laura!) to travel to India last year and help with a 10 day intensive training and design workshop. Having spent time in volunteering with job creation projects in Tanzania and with spectacular skills in design and general organisation, Ruth was an invaluable addition to the team!

The plan was to build on the success of the April Showers Collection, so armed with three suitcases of tools including a metal guillotine, sketchbooks full of new designs and a basic Tamil phrase book we set out on our adventure……

*Louisa Anne Ryland (1814 –1889) was a major benefactor to the town of Birmingham, England. She became a millionaire on the death of her father, whose family fortune was made in the wire drawing industry. Notably she provided half the funds for the cost of building Birmingham Art School and to this day BCU awards Louisa Anne Ryland Travel Scholarship to one student every year enabling them to go overseas to learn more about their subject. Check out Ruth Conway’s Website:


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