While teaching and traveling around Nicaragua, Jennifer Simonson, founder of Esperanza Market, noticed something peculiar. The parks and streets of the town she was visiting were filled with school-aged children in the middle of the school day.
This scene was not uncommon, Simonson had noticed it before: potential students wandered around when they should have been in the class room, yet school was in session. Eager to know why so many young people were missing out on education, she began to do her own personal investigation.
No School for Youth of Nicaragua
Simonson was made aware of the plight of many families in the culturally rich, but materially impoverished, country of Nicaragua. Most families could not pay the costs of school supplies and uniforms. Therefore, their children were pulled from school after a certain age.
Matters were made worse with the stark reality that, for many in the more impoverished regions of the country, resources such as electricity were incredibly unreliable. No electricity meant that children studied by the light of the sun. When daylight was gone, all homework had to be put away because it was too dark to read.
The idea that the time of day dictated a child’s ability to read struck a chord with Simonson. Having been a child whose imagination was propelled by the stories she pored over, she struggled with the thought that so many children would grow up without the enrichment she had gained from reading.
Beyond the Darkness: Market of Hope
Not a country to make a quiet impression, Nicaragua also demonstrated a wealth of beautiful textiles. In her travels, when she wasn’t observing the children at play, Simonson fell in love with the beautifully-crafted purses that spilled from every corner like bouquets of flowers. When she spoke with the artisans who made the textiles, she learned that being an artisan was only profitable during high tourist season. When the population of tourist shoppers dried up, so did the income.
Keen to do something for the country where she had been welcomed as a visitor, teacher and friend, Simonson began creating the framework for Esperanza Market.
Inspired by business models such as Tom’s, which donates a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes sold, she began to piece together a network of amazing organizations that would make up Esperanza Market. The market is an online retail site that sells beautiful handmade purses, messenger bags and yoga mat bags. Each piece is produced by a local artisan who Simonson has been in contact with directly.
Carry Your Things and Light the Way
Wanting to have a business that strives to give more as it succeeds, Simonson partnered with two organizations: Education Plus Nicaragua, a program that aims to provide quality education to students in Nicaragua, and Unite to Light, a California company that builds solar-powered reading lamps.
Now with each purchase,an artisan is fairly supported for the beautiful handiwork she has done, and Esperanza Market donates a solar-powered reading lamp to a student at Education Plus Nicaragua.
So far, 100 solar lamps have been donated to children in Nicaragua and many gorgeous bags swing around the shoulders of Austinites.
Simonson hopes that soon she will be able to provide lamps to every child at the Education Plus Nicaragua school. That would enable her to move on to other schools and perhaps even other countries, spreading the gift of reading, sight and education to the next generation of Latin Americans, all while outfitting Austinites with beautiful and, more importantly, hand-crafted swag. “Esperanza” means hope in Spanish, and Simonson is clearly spreading hope for a brighter future through Esperanza Market.
Get Involved in Mission of Esperanza Market
If you would like to purchase a beautiful hand-woven bag for yourself, check out Esperanza Market online.
To read more about Education Plus Nicaragua, Unite to Light and other causes related to Esperanza Market, check out the Changemakers blog.
If you would like donate a solar-powered lamp for $10, without purchasing a bag, visit this page.
@Austinot wants to know:
Have you shopped at Esperanza Market yet? What’s your favorite socially-conscious local business?