Cary, NC – Caroline Lucas of Cary, N.C., a Peace Corps volunteer, helped launch a women-owned small business in Armenia that produces and sells handmade stuffed bears. Since the Berd Bear project started in March 2011, the women of Berd have earned thousands of dollars to support their families.
Over the Mountain at the End of the Road
Seven years ago, a German nun named Sister Hanna visited Berd (pronounced Baird), a small community in a remote area of Armenia.
Armenia has a long tradition of fine handicrafts. Sister Hanna taught the women of Berd how to make traditional German-style teddy bears.
Years passed. Unemployment runs in double-digits in rural areas of Armenia, biting especially hard on women.
Fast-forward to April of 2011. Homeland Handicrafts, based in Yerevan, visited the women of Berd. Karapet of Homeland Handicrafts picks up the story:
“A few months ago, a Peace Corps Volunteer encouraged Homeland Handicrafts to make a visit to Berd, the city on the other side of the mountain at the end of the road in outer Tavush Province, some nine kilometers from the Azerbaijani border. Little did I know that we were about to embark on one of the biggest handicraft adventures in our history.
At the first meeting, the ladies in Berd showed me a teddy bear- a gorgeous teddy bear of very high quality. This was the start of what is fast becoming a project that we can ‘bearly’ keep up with. The orders are steadily trickling in!
For us, the joy is not only the fact that these are fabulous bears, but that we are providing work to several women in Berd who have not earned a penny of their own in ten years. They lived off of pensions, sons and husbands working in Russia, and their vegetables gardens. They are so proud that they are earning their own money now. – HomelandHandicrafts.org
Volunteer from Cary Helps Berd Women Create a Business
Caroline Lucas of Cary, NC is listed on the Berd Women website as “Co-worker, Peace Corps Volunteer, Business Development Specialist.” As the crow flies, Berd is more than 6,000 miles from Cary, NC.
“The women of Berd are incredibly talented and hardworking. They put a lot of pride into their craft, which is evident in each carefully and lovingly handmade bear,” said Lucas, a graduate of Chapman University. “As sales of the Berd Bear increase, more local Armenian women are able to work in full-time positions.”
Additional income generated by sales of the Berd Bear is used to provide members of the foundation with training classes in basic computer skills, business development and other topics.
“Aside from the financial benefits generated by bear sales, the women are also gaining business and leadership skills,” continued Lucas. “Now, these women can help support their families.”
More on the Berd Bears
Each stuffed bear is handmade from start to finish by members of the group.
The bear’s head, body, legs and arms are created using Armenian knitting techniques and assembled by a group of women who stuff and sew it together. Button eyes, a nose, and a mouth are then added, and the bear is dressed in either standard or traditional Armenian clothing. Male bears wear knitted sweaters and hand-sewn slacks, and females wear hand-sewn dresses.
In total each Berd Bear requires about 18 hours of labor.
How much has changed? There’s now an animated television series based on the Bears and other characters created by the women of Berd.