the hill country hill tribers {& a giveaway!}

{Update: This giveaway is closed and the randomly chosen winner is commenter #6, Melinda! Melinda, you will be receiving an email from the Hill Tribers within the next few days. Congratulations!}

I feel a little like Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail when she admitted to her shop assistant that she met Joe Fox in ... a chat room. I never thought I would be one of those people who made friends online, but a joy of blogging more has been meeting - virtually - some incredible kindred spirits. Today I'm bringing you a guest post from Jessica Goudeau, the executive director of Hill Tribers, a non-profit in Austin, Texas that helps refugee artisans use their talents to earn supplemental income for their families.

Needless to say, I'm extremely passionate about their work and hope you will use all your social media power to spread the word (and win some gorgeous earrings!).

We first met Huang a few weeks after her family moved to Austin from a refugee camp in India; originally they fled persecution in Burma like all of the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers. Her husband printed up dozens of copies of his resume in English and handed them out to everyone he met. He was hoofing it. He couldn’t stand living on the aid he was receiving through the refugee agency. He is a natural leader, an easy friend, a gifted language-learner. His wife was very quiet—she smiled and nodded briefly in acknowledgment of anything said to her, but she barely responded when we tried to get to know her better.

She was nine months pregnant with her third baby in the terrible heat of an Austin summer. Looking back, she was under a lot of stress—a new home, two tiny children, a difficult pregnancy. We made some calls and found out a local church was hiring a day porter; her husband got the job interview quickly. He teared up when they told him he had the job. Just weeks later, they gave birth to a fat-cheeked baby boy. We just celebrated that baby’s second birthday this August. In the space of his tiny lifetime, so much has changed for their family, but the real transformation has been Huang.

At first, her husband spoke for her. He answered any questions, shared any concerns. We asked her if she could weave like the Karen hill tribe women, but she couldn’t. We asked if she could sew, but she never learned how. Hesitantly, her husband suggested that she could crochet some things. It wasn’t much to look at, he said, but it was something.

This stunning artistry is what Huang brought to us so humbly and apologetically. It took us a long time to convince her that we loved the bracelets, earrings, and necklaces she was designing. The high volume of sales helped, I think—we can barely keep her products in stock. She spends all day at home with her three kids and a couple of neighbor’s children, tatting while they play. She teaches the neighbor women at night—her student Christine has become one of our most accomplished jewelry-makers (we’ll be featuring some of Christine’s earrings in a giveaway tomorrow).

Huang has changed remarkably in the last two years from a shy, apologetic woman to an accomplished teacher and outspoken leader. She is consistently among our highest earners because she is really, really good at what she does. And the transformation we have witnessed in her life convinces us that our little project to help Burmese artisans earn some money for their families is worthwhile.

With her very first paycheck, Huang’s first purchase was a navy blue hoodie for her husband. He showed it to me proudly one day, zipping it up and down: “My wife bought this for me.” He was incredulous, in a culture where men are the breadwinners, and he was proud. She was proud too. She pointed it out the next time we saw her. Her eyes twinkled mischievously at her husband, this couple who had been so stressed not long ago. In the last year they have gathered their friends around them, building an enclave of Kachin hill tribe culture in one little courtyard in Austin.

She called me the other day to talk about new products and tell me about a new friend in town who might want to join us. To hear her voice, speaking slowly but surely in a language she could barely utter two years ago, brought me to tears on my kitchen floor.

This is what empowerment looks like.

To win these coral earrings by Huang:

  • Follow Hill Country Hill Tribers (@hilltribers) on Twitter
  • Like Hill Country Hill Tribers on Facebook
  • Join our Facebook Flashmob and change your profile picture for one day on August 28
  • Tweet/share/email/call your sister about this giveaway

Leave a comment on this blog post for each thing you do to be entered to win multiple times. And head over to D.L. Mayfield's and Sarah Bessey's sites to enter giveaways there, too! The giveaway ends Monday, August 27 at 5:00 pm EST. If you don’t win, watch our website: August 28 at 8:00 am CST, the new products will go live and you’ll be able to buy the scarves and jewelry made by Huang and her friends.

Tomorrow, Hill Country Hill Tribers will be hosting the last giveaway before the new product launch on August 28. Follow us over there to read more about our favorite everyday Hill Triber earrings, made by Huang’s student and friend Christine.