In 1999 Marsha Winsryg traveled to Africa with her two daughters. In Victoria Falls in Zambia they passed through the Mukuni village, which had a bustling craft market.
“The people are all wood carvers and famous for it,” said Ms. Winsryg. “It’s all they do, but nobody makes a living from it. They just can’t sell enough.”
On that day she made one small purchase. Eventually she started traveling to Africa regularly.
“The more I traveled there, the more I realized I had a connection,” she said. “I felt compelled to do something.”
Ms. Winsryg started buying more crafts from the village and selling the items when she returned to the United States. In 2004 she established the African Artists’ Community Development project and expanded from the Mukuni wood figurines to Tuareg silver and ebony jewelry, Tanzanian Khanga cloth and Ghanian patchwork.
On Tuesday of this week Ms. Winsryg picked up a patchwork apron and wrapped it around her waist. She was standing in her holiday pop-up shop on Main street in Edgartown surrounded by African crafts, from woven baskets to sewn dolls. The store will be open every Friday and Saturday through Dec. 22. She has more items for sale at her home, which has also become a pop-up shop for the holidays and is open for business every Saturday.
“This is from a woman in Ghana who has her own nonprofit,” Ms. Winsryg said. “I buy these from her and she sends kids to preschool.”
The aprons are quilted with bright, colorful textiles.
Nearby are puffy rugs made by a divorced woman in Zanzibar. Mr. Winsryg explained that, once divorced, women are ostracized and it is almost impossible to find work.
“But she goes to a tailor and buys his pieces of leftovers to make these rugs,” Ms. Winsryg said.
Woven baskets, carved wooden bowls and beaded jewelry made of bone are created by a group of Kabwate craft women.
“It’s hard because you can’t buy things from everybody but you want to,” she said. “It means a lot. Twenty bucks is a week’s groceries.”
Ms. Winsryg has established relationships with many groups of craftspeo ple and buys as regularly as possible from them. The money from the sales of the crafts goes to either buying more crafts, or to the Mama Bahkita home for Disabled Children, seven miles away from the original village she traveled to.
The center is run by a group of Zambian Franciscan nuns which, with the help of the money sent by Ms. Winsryg, has grown from taking care of five children to about 140 children.
“What they are doing for the kids is so brave and compassionate,” said Ms. Winsryg. “The culture hides disabled children because it is considered shameful . . . imagine being parents who felt they had to be ashamed of their kid and imagine realizing you can be proud of the child you love. The parents saw that the kids could not only learn and become productive members of the community, but the kids blossomed, too.”
The nuns now have built a small school, a physiotherapy room, and bought a van for transporting the children.
Ms. Winsryg said many of the children’s guardians are struggling single mothers and she began buying their dolls to help them make ends meet.
The women work as a cooperative, each putting in their time to create the dolls, whether it be cutting out cloth or sewing on the hair. The money goes into a shared bank account that they organized themselves. The women also weave bags for sale from recycled shopping bags and old film strips.
“They call themselves the God Given Gifty Group,” said Ms. Winsryg. “I’m just amazed at what they have been able to do.”
Ms. Winsryg sold the crafts for one holiday weekend at the same store space last year, which is donated by Gino Courtney.
She hopes that others will see not only the beauty of the handmade gifts but the importance of supporting the crafts people.
“These people have beautiful skills,” said Ms. Winsryg. “They are so hardworking and so deserving I don’t understand why they should have to suffer.”
Zambezi Crafts in Edgartown will be open on Fridays from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Christmas. The store is located at 8 Main street across from the Wharf Pub. Ms. Winsryg’s house will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 20 Road to Great Neck in West Tisbury. For directions and more information, call 508-693-4059 or 508-560-2620.