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Empowering Refugee and Immigrant Women for a Brighter Future


Antoine Didienne

“Inés" is from Mexico and she lived there until one day her uncle —who lived in Los Angeles with her aunt at the time— got into a horrible car accident. He was the sole source of income and Inés' aunt was left with no other option than to urge someone from her family come and help. So Inés did; she uprooted everything she knew and left her family and friends. She risked her life to travel to a country she did not know -- to live on the margins of society and work very hard for little pay -- just to help her family survive a bad patch.

But this is not a story about Inés. This is about thousands of women refugees and immigrants just like her coming to the U.S. because they have been driven to abandon their home countries in search of a better future.

The details change, but the themes remain the same. They also have all experienced tremendous hardship of different degrees. They have abandoned their homes, families and the people they love to come to here. They have not had the luxury of gaining a good education since most of them do not even have a high school degree or even a GED. They live in such frugal conditions that planning for the future is impossible. And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to meet more hopeful, sweeter, mild-mannered women and mothers.

I have heard the stories of their plights repeatedly. These women are at an impasse because, without a basic education such as a GED, they can’t really get work. And without a job, they don’t have money to put their young children in daycare. It seems like an insolvable conundrum, but I believe that the answer is simpler than it seems.

This is why Vavavida.com exists. We created this social enterprise to find real solutions to the problems underprivileged women face. Vavavida.com is an ethical fashion e-tailer of beautiful jewelry and accessories capable of empowering women’s economic futures here and abroad. We retail products made by co-ops of artisans following fair trade principles, and with every sale we invest in female empowerment and gender inequality programs such as the PCI Women Empowered program.

If you do not know about fair trade, you need to know that fair trade is simply about paying people fair wages for their wares and production and treating them like human beings. The fact is that fair trade is fast becoming the quality standard with commodities like chocolate, coffee, tea and bananas, but it is slowly being adopted in other sectors.

About six months ago, I heard of Jennifer Housman, a jewelry designer (Housgoods.com) and a volunteer with PCI who wanted to do a little more in San Diego. From meeting with Jennifer and the PCI president, we decided to embark on the grand project of trying to solve these women’s problem by giving them an opportunity to work from home in conditions where they can work as little or as much as they can on a given day and be rewarded with a fair pay for their work. This way, they are empowered to take charge of their own future and do not have to give up money by putting their kids in daycare.

For the past four months, we have met every Tuesday to teach women like Inés, who graduated from the WE program, to design and make jewelry inspired by the artistic traditions and designs of the regions where they come from. The hope is that we may offer them a way to get ahead in their future. We just want these women to have a shot at a better life because we think that’s fair.

Antoine Didienne is the co-founder of Vavavida.com, a line of ethically made fashion jewelry items that give back.

3p Contributor

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