Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spiral Foundation

Why Harrison Ford, Salma Hayek, Linda Hamilton, George Clooney, Oliver Stone, Ben Affleck, Kristin Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Anjelica Huston, John Travolta, Sofia Milos, Kim Cattrall, Tim Robbins and Steven Spielberg find crafts from Vietnam and Nepal appealing? Well partly because of Marichia Simcik Arese, an art historian from Pacific Palisades who spent 15 years as a curator at the Getty Museum.

In 1997, Marichia went to Vietnam as tourist and was captivated by a group of young people working in a restaurant in Hanoi but using their spare time to make picture frames out of recycling soda cans. They would sell them to tourists to pay for their college education. She told the young students if they would send her the frames she would sell them in the states. Any money she made would be sent back to VN.

Four months later she received 300 hundreds picture frames. Marichia was stunned and did not know what to do with the frames. However, true to her word, she managed to sell them all to her TPA, neighbors, friends. What made the story very compelling was the fact that the students only kept a small amount of money sent for their education and the rest was given away by them to support orphans in remote villages.

From such kind acts ocean apart came forth Spiral Foundation. In the last 11 years, Marichia raised over $1.3 million for her nonprofit organization by selling crafts made by recycling materials from disadvantage artisans first in Vietnam and later on Nepal. Marichia would display the bowls, the bags, and other housewares on her dining room table, called it a holiday gift bazaar and invited neighbors and friends to come over. Word of mouth did the selling and marketing. Now it has grown into an annual event attracting the Hollywood crowd.

Some of the money are being used to fund educational program as well as healthcare/surgery for children in Hue via East Meets West Foundation, a nonprofit foundation founded by Le Ly Hayslip in the early 90s. Le Ly Hayslip of course is famous for her book about her life as a woman in a war torn Vietnam which later was made into the movie " Heaven and Earth" by Oliver Stone. East Meets West Foundation is the largest NGO operating in Vietnam with an annual budget of over $5 million.

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