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Pat Daily of Pleasant Hill wears a dress made by one of the African women of the Asante Network. The network gives opportunities for artisans to earn a living while raising money for scholarships.

PLEASANT HILL -- Pat Daily was able to live her 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 help them develop skills in maintaining a home-based business creating and selling crafts, Daily gets to meet the women whose lives she wants to help change for the better.

The women and their families live in humble dwellings often without electricity or running water. She met some of the women and watched as they made the products by hand.

"Some of the women were weaving," said Daily, who lives in Pleasant Hill. "I got to see the start of the batik process ... and I was fortunate to get to see that made from scratch.

"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."

The result has been crafts that include 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.


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A variety of the handmade items are on display at the aRt Cottage Gallery in downtown Concord through Aug. 27. aRt Cottage Gallery owner Frogard Butler said there was so much positive response when the Asante Network volunteers set up an African bazaar at the gallery last year she decided to invite 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 but she's grateful that the quality crafts get more exposure at a local gallery to help spread the word about 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 lived in Walnut Creek.

Through their work projects in Tanzania, they met the women from the various groups who make functional and decorative crafts and soon shipments of baskets, jewelry, clothes and bags started arriving in the United States and to churches in the Bay Area.

Kathy Booker admired the colorful batiks at an African bazaar almost 10 years ago, so when she heard that volunteers were needed, Booker and her husband, Stan, both retired schoolteachers, signed up to help and have been to East Africa four times since 2006.

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," said Booker. "It's helpful to them that someone thinks about them."

Daily wants people to know that when they buy the women's crafts, the money goes toward food, clothing, shelter and education for families in those regions. The word asante means "thank you" in Swahili. The women are grateful for the volunteers' help in peddling the goods at the venues.

Funds raised from products sold also go toward such programs as building a women's sewing center, classroom construction, student scholarships, micro loans to women and school lunches.

Daily and the Bookers hope more people will be interested in spreading the word about Asante Network, or set up an African bazaar.

Asante Network is a member of the Fair Trade Federation which gives the women's group the opportunity to price their own products that makes them affordable to the consumer yet the women can still profit from their work.

IF YOU GO
WHO: Asante Network
WHAT: African craft bazaar
WHEN: Concord through Aug. 27; Alameda, Oct. 11-12; St. Perpetua Church, Lafayette, Oct. 18-19
WHERE: aRt Cottage, 2238 Mt. Diablo St., Concord
INFORMATION: www.asantenetwork.org