Fairfield University business student to host sale of handmade Nicaraguan pottery and crafts to help indigenous artists create a self-sustaining business

Fairfield University student Janet Latuga has learned that one person can make a difference.

Image: Nicaraguan artisanInspired by the justice mission of the Jesuits, the Dolan School of Business senior is hosting a sale of authentic handmade pottery and craft goods, made by indigenous Nicaraguan artisans. The event is part of an ongoing, student-driven effort at Fairfield to increase exposure of goods made in Nicaragua - including vases, candlesticks and baskets - in an attempt to improve the quality of life of the struggling artisans. All profits are passed back to them.

 A marketing major, Latuga, from East Williston, N.Y., will be selling an array of products Wednesday, Dec. 1-Friday, Dec. 3 and Monday, Dec. 6-Friday, Dec. 10 in the Barone Campus Center, next to the bookstore entrance, from noon to 5 p.m. Prices start at $5. "The crafts include small and large vases made out of clay, sugar bowls , and vase-shaped crafts made out of pine needles, pictures frames, and jewelry boxes," she said.

The Nicaraguan project has its origins in a 2004 trip to the country led by Winston Tellis, Ph.D., professor of information systems and operations management. He went there with students in his International Information Systems class to investigate globalization and its effects. Students applied their classroom learning toward creating a business model to sell the local artisans handcrafted pottery.

Dr. Tellis explained, "The project is one facet of a larger effort to create a self-sustaining sales channel for the handmade craft items and artwork that will benefit and stimulate the Nicaraguan community and economy." Tellis indicates Nicaragua has many exceptional artisans, including potters, sculptors, painters and weavers. However, most of these artisans do not have adequate access to markets to provide a decent living for themselves and their families. The number of tourists who visit Nicaragua is relatively few compared to neighboring countries such as Costa Rica, and Nicaragua has not yet developed its international craft market to the level of other Latin American nations, he added.

During Latuga's sophomore year, she was awarded an E. Gerald Corrigan Scholarship, which led to an opportunity to work on a project of her choosing. Tellis became her mentor, and he suggested she take up the mantle of the artisan business as a Social Entrepreneurship project. She also received a grant from the Emily C. Specchio Foundation to help her to acquire the merchandise.

Earlier this year, Latuga visited Masaya, Nicaragua. First, she met with Nitlapan, a microfinance institution that works with the artisans. She then met a family that makes some of the pottery she had been selling at Fairfield events. "Each member of the family has something they specialize in," Latuga recalled. "Some of the family members go and dig for the clay in their backyard, some of them make the pottery, and some of them decorate it."

The hope is that a fair trade business will be created to sell the pottery and crafts at Jesuit universities nationwide, Tellis said.

"I hope this project/not-for-profit business runs indefinitely at Fairfield University," Latuga noted.

For more information, visit Latuga's blog at http://nicaraguancrafts.wordpress.com.

Image: Despite Nicaraguan artisans' talents and the quality of their crafts, the impoverished artisans have struggled finding access to large markets to sell their goods. A Dolan School of Business project intends to change that. Pictured is an artist who uses a foot-petal run pottery wheel to make vases.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on December 1, 2010

Vol. 43, No. 134

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