Urumqi is a unique city. Located in northwest China in Xinjiang, it has the largest population of minority cultures. In 2004, I had an opportunity to spend a month there teaching English and I loved it. People are friendly, food is delicious, beautiful lake in the mountains and also desert land with camels roaming.
There has been a lot of political tensions in the region in the recent years with rioting between the Han and Uyghur ethnic groups. The situation is still tense as of today. There are people who are jailed for their beliefs that is not in line with the government.
The people in Xinjiang love arts and culture which should be celebrated. Their love for dance, music and their exquisite traditional costumes should be the sound we hear in the streets, not the sound of war.
We hope someday to partner up with fair trade artisans in Xinjiang as they have beautiful silk scarves, handmade bags and tapestries.
Economic development in China continues at a feverish pace, so that beside the fabulous wealth is heart-breaking poverty, with little in-between. People are drawn out of rural living and into the major cities, also at an alarming rate. This migration places
unskilled and uneducated people at a disadvantage… some people are promised high-paying jobs, only to discover a life of exploitation, that their employer is a “madam” and the workplace is a “massage parlour”.
Starfish offers alternate employment to young women who have been working in those massage parlours. I spent a day with Starfish’s Riverside team, and saw a place where there is a nurturing community, dignity, laughter and hope. The girls recognized my
necklace, which I had bought from their catalogue, and we chatted about their new jobs at the Starfish workshop.
In the afternoon, when business is slow in the massage parlours, I went out to visit the working girls. My guide had a pouch holding beaded gifts for the girls: cell- phone charms and little bracelets made of coloured plastic beads. The gifts were a conversation piece, and we talked about colour, hopes, career aspirations. Of the eight girls we met, all had come from small towns and none had completed high school. Most of them were understandably wary of people who solicit their trust. When men came into the shops, we excused ourselves and moved along to the next shop. My guide exchanged numbers with the girls, and promised to visit again.
Hearts and Hands began its work in 2000, first as a training class in patchwork and quilting for young Deaf, then as a small handcraft business employing young Deaf people who would otherwise struggle to make a living. Currently we have over 40 workers with hope for greater expansion in the future. Our workers are all deaf or disabled, learning useful life skills in a friendly working environment. Our hope in providing this environment is to help them realize “plans that will prosper and not harm them, plans for a hope and a future.”