Staying connected through craftivism

Rebecca Horn, a freelance international humanitarian worker from Liverpool, working in areas of conflict and disaster around the world, writes from her latest trip to South Asia about staying connected while far from home:

Sometimes I feel very far from home – which I am when I’m working in somewhere like Bangladesh, where I’m writing this from.  But the feeling of being far away is more about being disconnected from people’s lives, which of course carry on whether I’m there or not.  At times, it seems to make no difference to the world whether I’m in Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, South Sudan or Liverpool.

I look for opportunities to stay connected while I’m away - writing this blog is one of them!

I’ve recently found another, which brings me a lot of pleasure and has brought surprising benefits.  I am part of Crosby Craftivists, who meet on the first Saturday afternoon of every month to do some kind of craft which aims to challenge injustice and change the world for the better.  Predictably, I often can’t make the meetings, so I started taking the materials away with me so I could still be part of what the group were doing.  In the year or so they’ve been meeting, Crosby Craftivists have made ‘refill’ laminated notices which we gave to local shops which were willing to refill people’s water bottles for them (thank you Caz’s Kitchen in Waterloo for displaying mine!); small scrolls with messages inviting the reader to reflect on who made their clothes, which we then ‘pocket drop’ into clothes in high street stores; and have embroidered small banners with uplifting or thought-provoking messages which we tie onto trees or lampposts in the area where we live.

It was this last idea which I loved most.  I made a couple of banners and tied them onto trees on St John’s Road, a small but busy shopping street round the corner from where I live in Waterloo.  I expected them to be ripped off within a week, but I kept going to check whenever I came home from a job – and they were still there!  Very encouraging.  So I made more, and tied them up on the same street.  Again, nobody spoiled them or destroyed them, and they made me smile whenever I passed them.  I hoped they made other people smile too!

One day a month or so ago, I went into the wonderful Dorlin’s haberdashery on St John’s Road to buy more embroidery thread, and I told them what I was buying it for.  There was one of my banners right outside their shop, and they said they had always wondered who made it!  They took a photo of the banner and put it up on their Facebook page the same day.  Caz’s Kitchen, the cake shop on the corner (which also has a banner right outside it!) immediately commented on Dorlin’s post – saying what a great community Waterloo and St John’s Road is. 

Just before I left to come back to Bangladesh at the start of October, I went into Florence & Fox, a shop on the same street which sells things by local artists.  The woman who runs the shop has craft sessions in the back room of the shop, and there were some people there making bags so I started chatting to them and the shop owner.  I told them about my banners (getting quite evangelical now – and of course there had been one outside Florence & Fox for months!), and, like the Dorlins people, they were very happy to know who had been making them.  And invited me to hold a craftivism session in the back room of the shop when I get back, so we can make lots and cover all the streets in Waterloo.  I was just buzzing as I left the shop!  And can’t wait to get home, so we can do it.

I’ve been making more banners while I’ve been here in Bangladesh – long plane journeys are an especially good opportunity (no airport scanner has complained about my needles yet…). 

When I started, I hoped they would brighten someone’s day when they passed them, but as it turns out they’ve brightened my days and given me a sense of connection with the place where I’m lucky enough to live.