Guest blogger Tim Barnes tells the story of how a simple backpacking trip led to an amazing relationship that paired two unlikely partners in growing an art business and helping a village.
I founded MoreThanAid to help villagers in Malawi, Africa improve their own micro economy. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. While there are a large number of organizations providing aid, such as charities and child sponsorship, I felt more could be done to help the Malawians improve their own economy.
It is my opinion that people, communities and countries can become dependent on aid, and over time that can cause them to become idle. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Although I just launched this venture in March, 2016, the story started back in 2003 when I was camping at a campground in Kande Village, Malawi during an African backpacking trip. I met a family of brothers who owned a carving shop and I spent the day with them. Check out the YouTube video to see the chair they carved for me (start-to-finish) using very primitive tools.
After returning to my home in Canada, I kept in touch with Banjo (who has since passed away); he is the guy to my left in the photo above. I also kept in touch with his youngest brother, Ceaser in the photo below. Ceaser is the artist whom I am helping to launch a business. As an Information Technology professional, I knew that technology would really enable me to help solve this challenge – but I did not know anything about art or international business. Most days I feel way over my head. However, for me the potential to help even a few people in this little village is worth it.
When I started MoreThanAid, I did not have much to go on. I had Ceaser in Malawi as a Facebook friend; he did not even have his own mobile phone or a computer. We got creative around how we were going to communicate and progress forward. Ceaser became good at borrowing a mobile phone from his friends, and we used Facebook Messenger for all our discussions.
About a month ago, Ceaser put me in contact with Jacob Uledi. Jacob is a social worker by profession, and also a leader working hard to make sustainable positive change in Kande. Jacob has been key to helping both Ceaser in Malawi and me in Canada navigate some of the hurdles.
After three months, here is where we are:
- Ceaser’s business #KandeArt is launched. He has a Facebook page, and did a great job at getting artists (including himself) in Kande motivated. He significantly improved his photography skills, which has been critical to telling their story.
- After one failed attempt to ship paintings to Canada using the postal service, just last week 22 paintings from the remote village of Kande arrived at my home in Calgary, Canada via DHL. Six of the paintings have already sold.
- A good friend of mine in Oklahoma was open to working with one of the artists in Malawi to create a custom painting for him. By using Facebook Messenger and sending sample pictures back and forth, a painting was created and shipped back to the US.
As I mentioned earlier, the goal was not to provide charity or donations for this community. It was to help find a market for their art so there would be more outside money coming into their community. After learning more about the challenges in the village, I realized that a large majority of the 3,000 people in this village struggle to simply survive. They deal with floods, food shortages, child marriages, and a high percentage of orphans as a result of HIV.
One of the biggest challenges is finding a way to educate the children in the village. Ceaser, Jacob and I worked out an agreement where a portion of the proceeds of their art sales would go towards sending the brightest kids to a better school.
While there was progress in the first three months, we need to build and grow so it is sustainable and generating regular income for Kande Village. While I am not an art distributor, I am seeking interested parties worldwide who may be interested in purchasing or distributing this artwork. The longer term goal is for Ceaser to have an art business online. However there is more work required to get him to the point where he can effectively run an online business from Kande, Malawi.
I really want to thank The Arts Business Institute for their support and guidance, and most importantly for providing the platform to get this story out. Please follow MoreThanAid on Facebook and Twitter, and email us at MoreThanAid@outlook.com.