If you want to shop for a unique holiday gift this year while supporting a very worthwhile cause, make a trip to West Tisbury this weekend to check out the African crafts on offer at an enclosed porch sale at the home of Marsha Winsryg and Paul Karasik.
For the past 20 years, Winsryg has been helping to support communities, families, and individuals throughout some of the more impoverished areas of Africa by importing and selling traditional crafts. The nonprofit organization that she founded in 2002 is called the African Artists Community Development Project (AACDP) and all of the proceeds from sales go to the artisans and one or more charitable organizations throughout Africa.
Available are a variety of items from different regions, including silver Tuareg jewelry, Zambian baskets and other woven goods, colorful cloth in traditional patterns from East Africa and Congo, lovely decorated bowls made from mabel fruit from Victoria Falls, carved wooden animals and jewelry made from African trade beads.
Appliquéd wall hangings from Zimbabwe, from a series called Village Life, feature small figures going about various tasks. These lovely hand-sewn collage pieces feature intricate designs. They can be purchased by the panel or as a large multi-panel work of original art.
Charming little hand-sewn dolls from Zambezi also feature African fabrics, as well as cotton and wool. The clothing can be put on and off, and they are sturdy enough for even young children to play with. The variety of skin tones represent a multicultural world and, as Winsryg says, “There’s not one that’s like another. Just like human beings.”
These little dolls are made by a women’s collective that Winsryg founded in 2010 to help mothers of children with disabilities. After visiting the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home, one of the charities that Winsryg provides aid for with her sales, she decided that she wanted to provide help to the families who were struggling in supporting special needs children. On the AACDP website, Winsryg writes, “The lack of work and the minimal pay scale for the menial jobs available left their mothers struggling to pay rent and feed their families. Having handicapped children made working that much harder. It was clear that these women needed income.”
Winsryg was inspired to start the 501(c)(3) nonprofit after purchasing a wooden figure from a craftsman in Victoria Falls. “He asked if he could send me a box of crafts made by him and some of his friends,” says Winsryg. “They didn’t have nearly enough sales to support their families.”
She started selling the crafts at flea markets, pop-ups, and sales at her enclosed porch, and eventually she started expanding her reach to other artisans throughout the region. Since the initial humble beginnings, the AACDP has expanded its charitable efforts to aid numerous grassroots projects including a communal farm, a women’s economic empowerment project, educational sponsorship programs, emergency relief, and more.
Winsryg, who makes yearly trips to Africa to visit the many projects aided or founded by the AACDP, collects no salary, and the organization has only one employee — a Zambian native who serves as her boots-on-the-ground representative. A cast of volunteers from the Vineyard and beyond help out with fundraising and in a variety of other ways.
“Over all of this time, I have gained real supporters who donate every year,” says Winsryg, who adds that others help out in a variety of ways. “When I need help, I send out a call,” she says. And fortunately, there are always plenty of people willing to step in to support the cause. You can make a difference by purchasing the crafts, either at the porch sale or online at aacdpafrica.org. Prices range from around $10 to $45, and every little bit helps.
African Crafts Porch Sale in support of the African Artists Community Development Project, Friday, Dec. 23, and Saturday, Dec. 24, from noon to 4 pm each day. Enclosed porch is at 20 Road to Great Neck (off New Lane), West Tisbury.