Prabhuji’s Gifts Palo Santo Incense Cones are made in an artisanal workshop in a rural village in the Colombian Andes. But there’s much more to the story than just this. This Colombian workshop opened in collaboration with New York-based Prabhuji’s Gifts in 2014 with two goals in mind:
- To improve the quality of life of people who were struggling to provide for their families in a marginalized and poor community.
- To make a 100% natural product that cannot be found anywhere else.
And this is exactly what has happened, plus even a little bit more goodness. Under the guidance of Prabhuji’s Gifts, the workshop was set up and immediately employed seven people, who had been suffering the financial
hardships that are, unfortunately, typical in the region. They were not the only ones to feel the benefits of this new business in the village, however, and secondary income was also spontaneously created for others in this rural community. But more about this expanded blessing later.
The seven people working at the workshop, where they make a variety of Palo Santo Cone Incense blends by hand, are mostly women whose employment opportunities previous to this were seasonal and labor intensive. On top of this, four of the women did not manage to complete their high school education, reducing their employment opportunities. Previously, the only work they had been able to find was too physically demanding for them, such as cutting and carrying firewood from the mountains. Just to give you a picture, most people in this village live in mud houses, which are humid in the summer and cold in the winter.
Not only has the workshop secured them with regular income, but it also gives those of them who are mothers the flexibility that they need to care for their children. The artisans are paid according to how many cones they make, so for the sake of increasing their own income, the workshop came up with a new system of hand-manufacturing that has increased everyone’s salaries.
But there is something else that takes place that is equally important. These artisans work together in a spontaneously jovial and collaborative atmosphere, making it their home away from home and a place where they can bring their children. One woman who has an infant is able to break away from making cones whenever her child needs to be breastfed. Others have children in school and they play around the workshop after school.
Child labor is strictly forbidden and the youngest employee is currently 21.
The workshop also employs one man who never had the opportunity to learn to read. He brings wood from the mountains that is used in the incense cones, as well as firewood to heat the workshop and ovens.
And now we come to the secondary income that the workshop provides. There is a neighborhood store nearby and that owner also has a new source of income as the workshop buys its coffee and cookies, an expensive treat that is part of their culture, for the artisans. The workshop also locally buys rice, soup and bread with jam, and the artisans prepare lunch together.
Also benefitting from this new workshop is a neighbor who makes baskets from the bamboo that grows in a local forest. The workshop buys these bamboo baskets to store the cones before they are sent to the United States. Bamboo from the same forest is also used in the cones.
It is Prabhuji’s Gifts’ hope that the number of artisans working at this workshop will grow so that more members of this marginalized community will have the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives.