Grand mother's art to make a leaving
200 women restore traditions
Up on the Stara Planina mountains, hundreds of rare plant and animal species survive, butterflys and eagles. You will find carpets and cheese factories. Pirot’s tradition of rug making goes back several centuries: the locals specialize in making these original woven rugs, which were highly valued by the Turks. The cheese from Stara Planina and Pirot is renowned across the region. It is made from sheep’s milk and produced according to the local tradition.
Visiting the women’s workshops and staying at their rural homes, is a great way of empowering an important local development effort. Expecially after you read Slavica’s story, as she sent it to us. Thank you Slavica, great lesson!
<<At the age of 40, I lost my job as a computer science teacher and stayed alone with two children. At that time, the country was at war, under the international sanctions, economic situation was desperate and I was too old to find a new job, too young to retire. In order to survive, I had to do whatever I could and knew and had to take any job opportunity. I knew what I want: to be a good example for my kids, to though them moral values, to help them find the right path in life. I was constantly asking myself how to accomplish it, what to do, and how to earn money by doing a job I like, not the one I would despise as it would be waste of both energy and time.
I realized my best option was to use the skills I had in traditional arts and crafts to start a business. In the region where I live, the crafts of sewing, embroidering, crocheting, knitting, and weaving are traditionally passed from mothers to daughters, and my grandmother and mother taught it me when I was young. Since then I have been passionately practicing and developing handicrafts, as a hobby during my leisure time.
I had all I needed to start a business from my hobby: skills, hands, artistic soul, and desire to succeed. Failure was not an option. I began by using old techniques to produce new modernly designed objects. At first, I had been making garments only, working from home, but later started manufacturing tourism souvenirs. I also started making money, and at one point, I was not able to meet the demand.
In 2005, I founded The Association for Care and Preservation of Traditional Arts and Crafts “Grlica” in the town of Pirot (www.grlica.org). The name “grlica” was chosen as it depicts the specific sewing pattern used on the Pirot carpets. I invited women who are employed, without a job, housewives, retired and disabled; all those who are making handicrafts, to join me. In two months, the Association had 200 members, 91% were women making handicrafts, 1% were artisans, while the rest were people interested in traditional arts and crafts who wished to support the Association. The same year when the Association was founded I organized the first exhibition of women handicrafts after 20 years. Since then the exhibition has been organized annually on March 8, on the International Women’s Day, gathering every year around 100 exhibitors.
“Grlica” is a nonprofit organization which organizes educational programs, promotes tradition, deals with rural tourism development, organizes exhibitions and fairs, makes projects etc.
After many successful years, I have realized we had to make one more step forward: to convert the Association into a profit organization which will supply the market with handicrafts and provide jobs for women.
I spent couple of years making a plan on how to open an artisan cooperative and waiting for the good opportunity.
In 2008 we submitted a project in rural development and tourism field and received funds from the Municipality of Pirot, the Ministry of Economy and Regional Development of the Republic of Serbia, and USAID.
In 2009 we opened the artisan cooperative for carpet and souvenirs production Lady’s Heart Pirot www.damskosrce.com. The name of the cooperation comes from one of the Pirot rags’ motifs.
We bought the necessary equipment, premises, and hired ten women. I am the director of the Cooperative, but as well working with the other employees.
We are women’s organization, and the moral support for our work from various organizations and institutions is not lacking.
In 1991 I came from Croatia as an ordinary lady with two minors, and became a refugee in the town where I was born. From a lady who struggled to survive, to bring bread to its children, to teach them moral lessons and to teach them not to lose love in their souls, I have become a woman who is dedicated to promotion and preservation of traditional values, and traditional arts and crafts, a woman who helps others and who strives for tourism and rural development in Stara Planina Mountain.
Although not profitable, traditional arts and crafts are one of the most beautiful products humans have ever made.
All we do aim to promote rural development and tourism>>.