Ibulliance: Memos from the Movement

As I situate myself on a tiny classroom chair, my heart is beaming as large as the smile on my face. I am surrounded by twelve seven- and eight-year-old girls, each holding a wild silk cocoon in her small but mighty hands.
Convening with these Ibus-in-training has been a dream in the works between me and Ashley Hall Head of School, Dr. Anne Weston, to cultivate meaningful connections between Ibu artisans and Ashley Hall students. Ibu has presented the Ashley Hall high school girls’ choir at an event; has hosted multiple juniors during their two-week internship intensives; recently, Anne herself participated on a formidable Ibu panel about investing in women on International Women’s Day; and now this enchanting
opportunity to build on one classroom’s learning spiral about the metamorphosis of the silkworm is taking place.

As a parent of an Ashley Hall student, my wheels of collaboration started spinning as soon as their February newsletter hit my inbox. I read: Second graders raising silkworms, and my mind instantly went to the Indian Ocean—a place I have treasured in my travel memories for decades—where, on the island of Madagascar, Ibu partners with the Tanana artisan collective, actively seeking to promote reforestation through indigenous craft.

I reached out to our friend and ally Kyley Schmidt, a former Peace Corps volunteer, who for the past 20 years—since her time in the rainforests of Madagascar—has dedicated her textile expertise to managing sales for Tanana. What would you think, I ask, about connecting with the students of an all-girls school in Charleston to take their silkworm study to the next level?  Kyley’s enthusiasm for the project matched mine and before we knew it we were planning a lasting and magical experience for both the girls and the artisans, in three parts.

First, Kyley and I share Tanana’s background and their impact on the local community in the Northeastern rainforest of Madagascar. Founded 20 years ago by biologist Cay Craig—who was witnessing firsthand the devastating effects of logging and deforestation—Tanana was established as an economic incentive for locals to invest in planting trees. Borocera silkworms only live in the rainforest of Madagascar on mulberry trees, and cannot be cultivated domestically. The silk from their cocoons brings a high premium, making silkworm farming more lucrative than logging. Since 2009, 40,000 trees have been planted, bringing the wild silkworm population back from the brink of extinction, not to mention the endangered lemur population is also on the rise thanks to the silkworm trade. 

Next up in this digital exchange program, husband-and-wife team Mamy and Lalaina zoom in from Madagascar with the girls to answer questions about the insects, farming, craft, and business model. Mamy is an entomologist by training and has guided nearly 50 farmers who plant mulberry and other trees to help grow the now thriving wild silkworm population. Lalaina mentors the 15-20 artisans in their village, teaching sewing and design techniques to monetize their remarkable harvesting process—which unlike traditional domestic silk harvesting, does not kill the silkworm pupae.

Finally, our burgeoning silkworm experts will take the knowledge they have learned from Ibu artisans and share it with their entire Lower School community… weaving the threads of curiosity, connecting, and caring for nature with sustainable and thriving business practices.

As Earth Day approaches, Ibu’s constellation of change makers comes into a new focus. In addition to providing women artisans around the globe with meaningful and long term opportunities for respectful, fair-wage employment, Ibu’s work also supports heritage crafts that utilize healthier and more sustainable techniques benefiting Mother Nature. It is exciting to share respect for people and the natural world around us with a rising generation.

Creating these connections as tools for learning and awareness is an important pillar of Ibu’s work. Who knows… one day soon, we may journey our Fringe Road Adventures to visit Mamy & Lalaina face to face in Madagascar (if you are interested, drop me a line!). In the meantime, if you know of a school studying a natural resource or animal species which connects to Ibu’s sustainable craft and employment projects we would love to hear from you.  

Our dream this Earth Day is to see these types of artisan collaborations grow in scale and impact, feeding the souls of ibus and he-bus for generations to come!

With joy for all that is ahead, 

Meredith Gale