Gifts To Our Community: Maya Collection
Karen Aroh says of the MAYA Collection: “WHILE REFUGEE WOMEN HAVE BEEN ABLE TO LEARN SKILLS AND SELL WARES, THEY HAVE ALSO BENEFITED FROM THE FRIENDSHIPS.”
MAYA Collection has been around since 2009, but it wasn’t until 2020 that it became an “official” nonprofit. In its early days, it was just an idea that Karen Aroh had to help Nepali women who had come to south Louisville as refugees. Many of the women’s husbands were struggling to find work given that the financial crisis of 2008 was still fresh. These women also simply wanted to make friends. “I said, ‘Let’s start a business.’ I had no idea what I was talking about,” she says. It took a long time to build the social enterprise.
MAYA Collection was started by Karen Aroh 11 years ago, but it just became an official nonprofit that helps refugee women learn skills, sell wares, and grow a support network.
In its earliest days, a core group of 15 women got together to knit and began creating items to sell. Karen says over time, the women who have become part of MAYA Collection have learned all kinds of other skills, from leatherwork to jewelry-making to the soft sales skills needed to sell items at craft fairs. Karen says one of the biggest benefits to the women in MAYA Collection is that it builds their self-confidence.
The nonprofit is primarily volunteer-run, although it did hire its first employee in early 2020. Its interns have been the creative force behind how MAYA Collection has adapted, given that COVID-19 canceled all craft fairs where the women might have sold their handcrafted goods.
While refugee women have been able to learn skills and sell wares, they have also benefited from the friendships they have made and the help they have received from the volunteers. “Our goal is to support and love each of our artisans holistically. This includes mentoring them and attending baby showers, birthday parties, helping with school issues, and helping find jobs for their husbands,” Karen says.
The majority of the women in MAYA Collection are Nepali, but women of any ethnicity are welcomed. Women from Africa, Iraq, and Myanmar have also become artisans. While the artisans haven’t been able to meet as often or in as large a group due to COVID-19, they continue to make their home at Hope Place on Southside Drive.