In university, Mr. Yoshida founded a group based in Southeast Asia to help local NGOs and homeowners design and build their own homes. He then went on to work for a Filipino non-profit, helping locals make a living for themselves instead of foraging in dumpsters to find items to sell. These two experiences helped him discover a passion for helping people. After graduating, Mr. Yoshida joined the construction industry, focusing on assisting in the design of harbors in African countries. He eventually settled in Madagascar, where his wife, Mrs. Yoshida (who was also an active volunteer in university, and a member of Mr. Yoshida’s group) joined him.
Life in Madagascar was a completely new experience for Mrs. Yoshida – different language, culture, and customs. Every day was an exciting adventure! Even simple items used in daily life would frequently catch Ms. Yoshida’s eye. “I discovered the locals brought their own basket bag to the bazaar when shopping. Fish, meats, vegetables – anything could go inside!” This was a new and fresh experience for Ms. Yoshida. Basket bags in Japan are generally only used in the summertime, as a fashion item. You can’t just put anything in this kind of bag – certainly not meat or fish - but in Madagascar, this was perfectly normal.
These sorts of culture shocks made life in Madagascar endlessly interesting for Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida. As time went on, they began to like Madagascar more and more. They decided to settle there permanently and found a business called AMPIANA focused on the item they both loved – the basket bag.
AMPIANA specializes in handmade products in Madagascar; everything from the raw materials to the finished products are produced there. For example, there are lots of Raffia palms growing in Northwest Madagascar, and AMPIANA uses their durable palm leaves to produce their basket bags.
Making a bag from leaves requires a huge amount of processing by hand. First, the artisan extracts the fiber from the center of the leaf. Next, they repeatedly water bathe and dry the fiber until it becomes durable as a material. They then use this material to produce bags.
AMPIANA isn’t just another business; it gives back to the community, too. Most of AMPIANA’s artisans are deaf women between the ages of 20 and 50. They often join after graduating from a nearby deaf people’s school, where they learn handcrafting skills like sewing. And even before coming to AMPIANA, most work in a bazaar selling their own handmade products.
At the beginning, Mr. Yoshida wanted to hire deaf people because one of the original artisans he worked with was also deaf. That person’s work was extremely high quality and delicate; they produced a fantastic end product. “In fact, beforehand, I didn’t have many opportunities to work with people with physical impairments. After working with this artisan, I learned that, in Madagascar, it’s common for people in this situation to live a very difficult life.” Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida decided they wanted AMPIANA to become a business that helped support those with physical impairments to support themselves financially.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida try their best to create a good working environment for their artisans, Madagascar’s social benefits are still not very strong. They often hear from their artisans that it’s too expensive to see a doctor. They’re also often embarrassed by their need to bring a helper with them. So, Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida used some of their training in university to found a new non-profit called HANDI-CRAFT MADA. This non-profit helps those with physical impairments live a safer and more comfortable life. For example, it helps them save a portion of their salary in case they have medical needs later on. HANDI-CRAFT MADA also offers direct financial assistance for medical fees, too. Because these needs are often significant, Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida decided to take a portion of AMPIANA’s proceeds and donate it to their non-profit. AMPIANA also donates a portion of its proceeds to the nearby deaf school. As a result, the company is now heavily focused on helping people in this difficult situation.
“I hope that, in the future, I can create a large atelier here in Madagascar. This atelier will provide complete childcare service, with a kitchen and bathroom, to enable our artisans to relax completely while they work.” Mrs. Yoshida says that this dream is also her future plan for AMPIANA. “I also hope that AMPIANA’s products can be sold worldwide. Once AMPIANA becomes more famous, we hope our products are recognized and enjoyed worldwide, allowing people to recognize and enjoy Madagascar’s culture, too.”
Interviewed by Yuwen W.
Worded by Yuwen W. & RP
Photo credit : Ampiana