GebRaa and Karama: revitalizing endangered Egyptian crafts
Rania Salah Seddik is a passionate entrepreneur and founder of sister organizations GebRaa and Karama, which aim to revive endangered traditional Egyptian crafts and support marginalized communities across the country.
“GebRaa cares about the product and Karama cares about the people behind the product,” says Salah.
GebRaa was established in 2008 as a social enterprise, and Karama, its development arm, is a board-led foundation, established in 2016 and fully operational since 2019.
As GebRaa increases the demand for traditional craftsmanship through marketing and product innovation, Karama “works to improve people’s lives economically and socially, seeking to achieve the economic, social and cultural development of artisans /craftswomen,” reads their website.
“Egyptian craftsmanship needs intervention because it is disappearing,” says Salah. In addressing this question, it approaches development from a social, economic and environmental perspective.
Salah tells Egyptian Streets that the decline of traditional handicrafts is leading to multiple crises, the main one being “a problem of dignity. We only copy others, so we have to go back to our history and be inspired by it to develop our own traditional craftsmanship.
In Salah’s experience, supporting the pursuit of traditional crafts taught people “who they really are” and helped preserve Egyptian cultural heritage and community identity.
Salah further explains that craftsmanship as a cultural product leads to job creation and can have a strong economic impact.
“People don’t have to emigrate abroad. They can work in workshops and do not have to travel to factories. This allows them to live with dignity,” she says.
Strengthening local products encourages the use of green supply chains through environmentally friendly production methods that leave little or no environmental impact from raw material to final product. Traditional handicrafts use indigenous materials, such as wool, clay or shells. Salah argues that “craftsmanship has always been recyclable”.
Train the next generation
While GebRaa focuses on the product, Karama supports the craftsmen who make it by “preserving, valuing, valuing risky crafts and passing on their know-how to younger generations”.
The Foundation recently led a project funded by the Drosos Foundation, to revive the Egyptian craftsmanship of marquetry. In addition to training 30 young people, they are also working to increase the income of marquetry workshops by improving their capacity and renovating their workshops. The aim is to open new markets for artisans inside and outside Egypt and to help them participate in exhibitions and design competitions.
All trainings have a particular focus on empowering marginalized members of communities, such as women, disadvantaged children and people with disabilities.
They use a holistic approach which involves cooperating with psychologists and social workers, to offer comprehensive support to their trainees. Their work has taken them across the country to vocational schools and slums, helping children to earn money from the trade they have learned and, therefore, to be able to go to school.
One of their projects is to revive the ancient Egyptian board game Senet, said to be the most played game in the world. Word of mouth says people have been playing it for over 3000 years. Apparently it was once popular as it was played with the deceased, as a gift from the living to the dead.
In the Karama community school project, children were invited to reinvent and replicate the Senet. After researching his story, they created their own versions of the game. Karama helps them organize tournaments and sell their product.
The question of women
Empowering women is an important goal in the work of GebRaa and Karama, as most “investment programs are geared towards men, not women. They are overconfident while women suffer from impostor syndrome.
As a female entrepreneur, Salah struggles with this herself, saying that in business, “women are not very respected or taken seriously.”
Most traditionally female handicrafts, such as embroidery and fabrics, are made from less expensive materials than male handicrafts. Therefore, women generally earn less money for their work.
“Copper and wood craftsmanship is dominated by men,” says Salah. “So we want to bring women into the traditional craftsmanship of men and give them access to those supply chains.”
Karama’s vision is to help create “a world where people celebrate each other’s cultures and are proud of their own.” Where marginalized local communities are economically and socially empowered through conscious customers. »
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