Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Amina Yabis and the Golden Buttons Cooperative

With certain individuals, you can feel the fire within their souls. They light up the room and make their presence felt. Perhaps it's how they carry themselves. Perhaps it's how others treat them. Or a combination of the two. Such is Amina Yabis, president of Cherry Buttons Cooperative. She's a force to be reckoned with.

In my service, I had several encounters with her. Amina is a firecracker and tireless worker. She's also the engine that drives the Cherry Buttons Cooperative. The cooperative started when several women decided that middlemen should no longer profit from their jellaba button-making. Since its foundation 10 years ago, the cooperative has reached markets throughout Morocco, in Europe and the United States. Their line of products has expanded to include jellaba button jewelry, scarves, blankets, natural dye rugs and so forth. It has since empowered over 200 families, opening avenues of economic opportunity. Furthermore, Amina has traveled throughout Morocco, giving workshops on natural dyes and how to form a cooperative, among other topics.

While the cooperative generates income, its sister Association, Golden Buttons Association, organizes community development activities. It had a hand in helping start 15 literacy classes in Sefrou. Perhaps most notably, Amina Yabis and the Association have raised self-awareness among girls through Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). This week-long camp invites inspiring female role models to show young, rural girls what life could be. I've touched upon some gender issues here in Morocco. And I firmly believe that there needs to be a public dialogue on females taking control of their lives.
Camp GLOW is one, but nevertheless important, piece of the movement.

*** This year, the camp will fall in early August. If you plan to donate, please do so by July 1st. Click: Scroll down to "Make A Secure Donation." Afterwards, VERY IMPORTANT, please send an email to, letting them know that your donation is for Camp GLOW. HAF is a U.S. 501c3 nonprofit organization and will send receipts for tax purposes to all donors. Every dollar you donate goes directly to the camp. Take a moment to make a difference!! ***

This July, Amina will be attending the Santa Fe Folk Art Festival, the largest international folk art market in the world. In addition, the Museum of International Folk Art is featuring the Cherry Buttons Cooperative in their exhibition entitled, "Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives That Transform Communities." Read the following press release for more information.


Museum of International Folk Art

The ten women's cooperatives in the exhibition


Umoja Uaso Women's Group, Kenya, photograph by Aaron Kisner

(Santa Fe, NM, June 11, 2010)-Ten women's artisan cooperatives will be represented in the Museum of International Folk Art's Gallery of Conscience inaugural exhibition, Empowering Women. These co-ops are from Swaziland, South Africa, Nepal, Lao PDR, India, Peru, Bolivia, Morocco, Kenya, and Rwanda. You may read more about the exhibition here.

Swaziland: Phez'kwemkhono Bomake-Ncheka Cooperative

Today more than 50 local women work in the cooperative making baskets to earn money for their families and to provide support for the community's many AIDS orphans. Their earnings have transformed the lives of hundreds of AIDS orphans funding education, clothing, a soup kitchen, medicine, home-base care for the bedridden, and hospital services.

South Africa: Mapula Embroidery Project

With embroidery members of this collective call attention to the joys and hardships of their homeland. Scenes range from the nostalgic depicting animals and village life to current issues such as crime, AIDS, unemployment, to alcohol addiction. Maria Rengane, founder of the Mapula (Mother of Rain) Embroidery Project said; "I would like to spend all of the years of my life helping communities do things like this project for themselves. This is how you build a strong successful nation."

Nepal: Janakpur Women's Development Center

The women of the Mhathili culture were renowned for painting designs on the mud walls of their village homes for weddings, festivals, and other special occasions. When Claire Burkett, a New England college graduate arrived in the Nepalese lowlands in 1989, she thought if the women painted their beautiful, spontaneous images onto handmade paper, they could be sold to an outside market, and increase their socio-economic status. Today, more than forty women travel daily to the Janakpur Center, a huge step for women who were not allowed to leave their homes.

Lao PDR: OckPopTok

Ten years ago this coop was founded by a London fashion photographer and the daughter of a master weaver from the Mekong region of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic. OckPopTok means "East Meets West." OckPopTok has grown from a one-room weaving studio for local weavers to an internationally recognized heritage destination, gallery, retreat center and women's weaving collaborative for more than 200 artisans in three provinces and seven villages. This cooperative is as likely to sell wall hangings inspired by Mark Rothko as the traditional skirts woven with Laotian motifs.

India: Self-Employed Women's Association Trade Facilitation Center

SEWA includes more than 3,500 artisan shareholders in 80 villages in India's western state of Gujarat. The women - all skilled home-based embroidery and textile artisans - are the producers, managers, and owners of their collective livelihood. The women run every phase of the business and their success has translated into building a legacy of respect where previously they were known either by their father's or husband's name and are now known by their given name - part of the tradition these women want to pass on for their daughters.

Peru: Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco

Hand-woven textiles in the Peruvian Andes are an important social and ethnic marker and a significant part of the cultural heritage of the region. Nilda Callanaupa, granddaughter of a master weaver who herself was weaving by age seven, founded this coop in 2005 to preserve traditions that were dying out. Today the CTTC is in nine regions of Peru, each supporting its own cooperative structure and a state-of-the-art museum of Andean textiles and a weaving training center, the CTTC in Cusco has become a destination for tourists and community members alike.

Bolivia: Cheque Oitedie Cooperative

The 45 women in this cooperative plant and harvest the bromeliad and produce and market hand-woven and dyed fiber bags to an international market. The group's sales amount to more than 60% of the total community income and now they manage a collective bank account for the first time.

Morocco: Women's Button Cooperative of Sefrou

Amina Yabis, a typical Moroccan Muslim housewife and mother of four boys ran unsuccessfully for public office in 1997. This left her with a clear realization: women needed first to have access to the cash economy to be successful in public life. Over the next few years Amina organized more than 400 women from her province into a craft association called Golden Buttons. Economic success led to the formation in 2000 of the Women's Button Cooperative of Sefrou, a for-profit cooperative that was the fist of its kind organized by women. The cooperative has ventured into other crafts and training programs to expand opportunities for Moroccan women for successful engagement in public life.

Kenya: Umoja Uaso Women's Group

The beginning of the Umoja Uaso Women's Group in Kenya was not about art. It was about survival. Rebecca Lolosoli and 16 other home-less women founded the village of Umoja Uaso in 1990 as a refuge fro Samburu women who ere victims of rape, beatings, forced marriage, genital cutting, and other violent domestic crimes. Umoja, which means "unity" is now a safe have for women and girls fleeing abuse. The women of Umoja sell their tribe's elaborately beaded jewelry and crafts, both traditional and contemporary, to provide for themselves and their children. They have established a sickness and disability fund, a community center, and a school for their children.

Rwanda: Gahaya Links Cooperative

In 100 days of explosive ethnic violence in 1994, Rwandan Hutus murdered some one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, leving hundreds of thousands of widows and orphans. Ephigenia Mukantabana lost 65 family members but has forgiven her family's killer and now works side-by-side the imprisoned man's wife as fellow members of a basket-weaving cooperative. Beginning with 20 women the company has now grown to a network of more than 4,000 weavers across the country, organized into 52 cooperatives. Ephigenia credits teaching her art to both Hutus and Tutsis as the balm that restored her shattered life. She says; "Art heals the hopeless soul. Weaving is hope for tomorrow."

Media Contacts

Suzanne Seriff, Ph.D
Sr. Lecturer, Dept. of Anthropology,
University of Texas at Austin
Guest Curator, "Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities"
512 459-3990


The Museum of International Folk Art houses the world's largest collection of international folk art, with the ongoing exhibition Multiple Visions: A Common Bond in the Girard Wing. Changing and traveling exhibitions are offered in the Bartlett Wing and exhibitions highlighting textiles are featured the Neutrogena Wing. Lloyd's Treasure Chestoffers visitors interactive displays about collections and how museums care for collections.

The Museum of International Folk Art is a Division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.


Currently Appreciating:

**The long awaited start of building construction!! Mohammed and his team are laying down the bricks, literally!

**Association picnic at the beach. 33 women were able to come! It was a fun-filled day of sun, ocean, sand, laughing and delicious chicken.

**Escaping into good reads and movies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi. I was wondering if you know where I can buy products from the cooperative as I am going to Morocco in April. Thanks for the blog. Jeremy