How the AACDP came to be
Marsha Winsryg's story of how the AACDP evolved:
In 1996 my oldest daughter elected to take her junior year abroad at the University of Tanzania. My younger daughter and I visited her, and the three of us traveled through Zambia into Zimbabwe to see the little known Great Zimbabwe Ruins. In the middle of the three day journey we spent the night in Livingstone, Zambia. The next morning we visited Victoria Falls, and passed through a large craft market. There were about 150 artisans, but very few tourists. It was easy to see that none of the craft families were making a living. I bought a wooden figure and struck up a conversation with the artist, a young man named Foster Wachata. As I was preparing to leave, he asked me if I would try to sell some crafts made by Livingstone artists in the U.S. Although I did not realize it at the time, this was a pivotal moment in my life. I said yes instead of no.
I could have easily decided not to take on this responsibility, but I identified with the Zambian artists. I myself had tried to sell my own artwork in NYC in 1974, walking the charming streets of the West Village, portfolio in hand, naively hoping someone would see salable talent there. I knew what it meant to make art, and how difficult it was to wrest a living from it, even in a privileged place like New York. How much more difficult must it be in Zambia, where poverty prevailed, the result of a failing economy, government corruption and the uncontrolled spread of AIDS? So, I said yes to those artists, even though I was not a store owner or a sales person, and an alternative future was set in motion, for myself and for a small Zambian community.
I purchased several bowls & carvings from Foster and his friends at full price, planning to sell them for more. I wanted to create an economic loop that would benefit both the artisans and the rest of their community. So I looked for a Zambian charity near Victoria Falls where I could send the profits.
An AIDS consultant with the John Snow Foundation suggested the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home in Livingstone, run by the Little Sisters of Saint Francis. It seemed perfect. Located just seven miles from the Victoria Falls craft market, the Mama Bakhita is a small, unique organization that provides services for children with disabilities. Considering Zambia’s poor economy, it was no surprise to hear that this small charity was suffering from lack of support.
My donations were small and irregular in the beginning, but grew over time. After a few years I felt compelled to pay a visit, to see how my efforts were helping their work. I brought along materials for art projects with the children. We made puppets, dyed silk scarves, and painted with tempera. This became the first of my bi-yearly, and later, yearly visits.
By 2007, I realized that it was time to incorporate as a non profit so that people could make (and deduct) contributions to the cause. Two friends who had been helping me from the start became board members, and together we chose the name African Artists’ Community Development Project, Inc. (AACDP). Looking back, after having instituted diverse programs for women's economic development, education, emergency assistance and food security in addition to the original goal of creating income for the artisans and their community, I am gratified and amazed at how we have grown into our ambitious name.
Contributions doubled the income of the craft sales. In 2013 I began organizing and leading small group art tours in Florence, Italy, with all profits going to the AACDP. This added greatly to the money for all of our projects until COVID stopped all travel. Just after the beginning of the pandemic, the AACDP joined GlobalGiving, an international non profit whose mission is to drive donor funding towards small grassroots projects. Since then, donations have increased manyfold, as have the projects we’ve launched and funded.