PLEASANT HILL -- Pat Daily got to live her own life's philosophy during a visit to East Africa in 2007 -- "Life has much more interest, meaning, joy and purpose when you know you are helping and making a difference in the lives of others."

As a volunteer for Asante Network, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization that connects East African women's groups to empower them to develop their skills in creating and selling crafts and maintaining a home-based business, Daily gets to meet the women whose very lives she wants to help change for the better.

The Asante Network is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, which gives the women's group the opportunity to price their own products in a way that makes them affordable to consumers while still letting the women profit from their hard work, Daily said.

The women and their families dwell in humble abodes, often without electricity or running water, growing their own food, Daily said. She got to meet some of the women and watched as they made the products by hand.

"Some of the women were weaving, and one weaving while holding a baby in her arms," said Daily, who lives in Pleasant Hill. "I got to see the start of the batik process, which is quite a lengthy process. I was fortunate to get to see that made from scratch."

Despite their efforts in maintaining a household while trying to earn a living, the women often enjoy each other's company, Daily said.

"Women get together and have weaving groups," she said. "It gives them recreation and a chance to refine their skills. These women work really hard to send their kids to school."


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The result has been a plethora of crafts made using natural fibers -- hand-woven baskets made by the Neepu and Rwenzori Mountain women's groups from Uganda; jewelry and beading by the Naapok women in Tanzania; and textile art, table linens waxed batiks and clothing from the Miichi Women's group in Tanzania.

A variety of the crafts were to be shown at the aRt Cottage Gallery in downtown Concord through Wednesday. Gallery owner Frogard Butler said there was so much positive response from the public when the Asante Network volunteers set up an African bazaar at the gallery last year that she invited them back.

"I went to Tanzania for mission work and saw these kinds of crafts," said Butler, who has known Daily for 40 years. "So I decided one day I'd show these crafts at the aRt Cottage."

Daily said the "traveling" exhibit typically does the church circuit for three-hour shows, but she's grateful that the museum-gift-shop-quality crafts get more exposure at a local gallery to help spread the word about the Asante Network and the women behind the crafts.

The nonprofit organization was founded by Jack Hanson and his wife Mary Ann Sheets-Hanson more than a decade ago, when the couple still lived in Walnut Creek.

Through Hanson's various work projects in Tanzania, Hanson and Sheets-Hanson -- who have since moved to North Dakota -- got to meet the women from the various groups who make functional and decorative crafts. Soon, shipments of baskets, jewelry, clothes and bags started arriving in the United States, to make the rounds at various churches in the Bay Area.

Kathy Booker admired the colorful batiks at the African bazaar put on by Sheets-Hanson at Booker's Oakland church in 2005. So when Booker heard volunteers were needed, Booker and her husband Stan, both retired school teachers, signed up to help. The couple has been to East Africa four times since 2006 as volunteers.

Like Daily, the Bookers provide help wherever it is needed.

They visit Tanzania and Uganda to connect with the women's groups and buy truckloads of merchandise to keep the women's businesses afloat so they can support their families.

"We meet with the ladies and talk about the products and what's selling, offer new ideas for new products," Booker said. "This whole experience really changes you because you realize here we have so much and they have so little yet they're able to get by. It's helpful to them that someone thinks about them."

Currently, the Bookers of Alameda and Daily are the only volunteers in the Bay Area, with Daily being the only Contra Costa County volunteer.

They hope more people will be interested in spreading the word about Asante Network, or set up an African bazaar at their church, home or other venues or make a donation on the website toward the various projects.

The Bookers will be hosting an African bazaar at their Alameda home on Oct. 11-12.

Asante Network AFRICAN CRAFT BAZAAR
When: Alameda, Oct. 11-12; St. Perpetua Church in Lafayette, Oct. 18-19
Information: www.asantenetwork.org