I have made important decisions in my life, some were the right ones and others were not, but I cannot say that there have been too many times when I have based a really important decision on a total stranger 10, 000 Kilometres away.
Joel Baez lives in Paraguay and was 22 years old when I first heard about his life. I have never met him before as I have only Skyped with him. One day, very soon, I hope to meet him and communicate with him somehow. I can’t wait!
Joel is almost 24 now and for the first time ever he is able to earn a living wage and has become a productive member of his community.
One of twelve children, Joel was born deaf. As a child, he attended school for a few years, but found it very difficult to communicate with other children. He learned to read and write at a very basic level and was able to learn to lip read in his native tongue, Guaraní, but never felt accepted and ended up quitting school at a young age.
In order to keep him entertained, his older brothers taught him the family tradition, the art of silver filigree: melting beads of silver and extruding them into wire to create shapes that can be turned into intricate pieces of jewellery. His brothers eventually moved away to find jobs in Argentina and being the youngest and disabled, he was never able to continue with this art.
A friend who was living in Paraguay came to visit our family here in Canada and approached me with a few of Joel’s pieces and asked me to sell them to my friends because Joel needed money. He told me the story and my heart was crushed when I found out that his parents had to sedate him in order to keep him quiet because the neighbours complained about his outbursts of anger and the children were scared of him.
I had to do something! What? How could I help? No, I could not do anything! No, this was way too much for me! I could not get involved! He was so far away! He was a stranger that was 10,000 Kilometres away and I could do nothing else, but buy the pieces that my friend had brought with him. I could do my part! That was the answer…
No, it was NOT the answer. For the next 3 months I resisted the thoughts that came to my mind. I fought the urge to try and solve this problem, but it was all in vain. Joel’s story was deep down in my heart and all over my mind and I needed to act!
I decided that I could use my background as a designer and come up with unique designs that Joel could produce and we could try and sell them here in Canada. The pieces that my friend Joe had brought were exquisitely handcrafted, but the design aspect was poor and if I was going to help him earn a living I had to love what we were going to sell.
I began sketching and had to learn how to design according to how the pieces were to be fabricated. It was not an easy task as I had never worked with filigree, but it was exciting to know that there was hope for Joel. It took me around three months to understand it. I would sit at night and watch videos on my computer in order to learn how it was done.
I came up with my first collection inspired from the beauty of the different Canadian seasons, which I absolutely love. It was Spring and my neighbour’s Magnolia tree was bursting with blooms and I could not resist sketching it and taking pictures and this is where my first design originated from.
In a matter of weeks I got all my drawings ready for The Four Seasons
Collection and sent them to Joel for him to execute them. I was concerned about the distance, little communication and the fact that I did not know Joel. I did not want to give him false hope, but I did not know if he could produce what I wanted. I waited or a few weeks until one day I got a package in the mail with four gorgeous sets. I could not believe that he had created what I had envisioned I knew right there and then that we could not turn back.
I spoke to Joe, our friend in common, and when he told me that for the first time he had seen a smile on Joel’s face and that he had taken him shopping for running shoes with the money that he had earned, well, that was enough for me to keep on going and Alfaro Clubiné was born.
We have opened our online store @alfaroclubine.com and we have expanded our collections. Joel is earning a living wage and he is working with 3 more artisans in his own home and does not need to commute or move away from his family. His outbursts of anger have lessened considerably, he does not need to be sedated and the community, especially children, come to watch him work and have expressed their interest in becoming part of our project.
My dream is to continue providing work for Joel and his friends and to grow the production and employ more members of the community, so that they do not have to emigrate to find work.
Our exclusive pieces are sold at Cobblestone Gallery at The Atrium in Uptown Waterloo and at Corktown Jewellery, The Distellery Distric, in Toronto.
About the Author
Carmen Clubine is and industrial designer who believes in art and design as a means to lessen poverty, break stigmas and bring hope to disadvantaged communities. She was born and raised in El Salvador, but chose to settle in Canada with her husband and three sons. Inspired by the beauty of her adopted homeland, as well as by people she has met and places that she has visited, Carmen has created an exquisite collection of sterling silver jewellery. Deeply affected by witnessing extreme poverty and war while growing up and following in the steps of her father, an architect who devoted his life to low-income housing, she has volunteered her time to make a difference in the lives of others. Alfaro Clubiné is a beautiful collaboration which celebrates Carmen’s passion for design with her compassion for the less fortunate.