When British expatriate Chris Page and Rwandan artist Gabriel Dusabe collaborated for a unique initiative in 2004, it came from their desire to help a poor community.
Today over 300 orphaned youngsters in Rwanda have found steady employment from a unique model of making greeting cards under the Cards from Africa banner.
It is now a part of BBC World Challenge, a television programme that looks at rewarding global projects that have made a real difference to local communities. And while millions of people all over the world are buying these cards (there are over 300 of them), the business model is putting a smile on the faces of a community that once found it hard to support themselves and their families financially.
This festive season we recommend you take a look at www.cardsfromafrica.com from where you can grab an e-cart and buy greeting cards.
Though there is immense variety, our pick would be cards from the African collection, where children have neatly pasted and coloured figures and motifs on cards. There's "Mother and Child", "Bongo Drum" (this even includes some stitching), "Tasty at the Top", which features a crayon-coloured giraffe eating leaves from a tree.
My favourite: a handpaper cut-out of an elephant, innocently titled "Gental Giant". Each card in this range will cost around Rs 80 and this excludes the shipping charges.
While Cards from Africa is a global brand, making handcrafted cards from recycled paper, select individuals in India, like Anand Prakash, a greeting cards designer, are also making unique greeting cards and combining handmade paper with semi-precious stones, embroidery, art, brass, leather, wood, seashells, colourful paper, jute and even spices like nutmeg and dried red chillies.
In Anand's studio in Delhi's Shahpurjat village, nearly 500-odd designs of greeting cards are available. In another small room, a handful of people are busy creating magic with their fingers and making greeting cards, intricately weaving jute into slits cut in the paper.
"The guy who used to dig mud as a construction worker in Jharkhand makes the best cards today," says Anand, who even exports to the US and large parts of Europe.
In India, one can find his range of greeting cards under the Anand'z Creation displayed in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai at stores like The Next Shop, Full Circle, Contemporary Arts and Crafts, Either Or, Crossword and Amethyst.
While his greeting cards are priced in the range Rs 50-175 each, the prices increase substantially on commissions for wedding cards. One of his cards' collection even features intricate zardozi panels. He has worked with stamps, coins, jute, bamboo, dried flowersand leaves, besides other materials.
"Icombine anything and everything with handpaper," he says. For the festive season 2006, Anand has introduced a unique brass collection. These include brass necklaces and elaborate buttons strung together neatly in thin aluminum threads on handmade paper.
Interestingly,Anand procures handmade paper from all over India, including Pondicherry, Sanganer in Jaipur, Haryana and Chikmangalur near Bangalore.
Heis also in the process of launching a greeting cards collection in leather. "We'll have leather motifs on the cards and will be reasonably priced," he adds, showing us samples of cards made from coconut shells combined with jute.
While earlier Anand focused on colour, his last collection veered towards a beige-ecrucombination.
Amongthe rows of greeting cards on display is a section reserved for his painter wife's patterns for the cards. Though greeting cards is the main business for Anand, he also makes wine bags (Rs 200 onwards), scrap books (in the range of Rs 1,000-1,700) and hand-woven gift boxes.
While Anand has made a business of selling greeting cards, Himanshu Verma, director, Red Earth, for this year's festive season, commissioned a group of 20artists for his new initiative, The Greeting Card Project. "A lot of concepts initiated by Red Earth are connected with seasons and festivals. This time we thought of introducing funky greeting cards that people can buy online from our website www.redearthindia.com," he says.
Enthusiastic buyers, who would like serious art on their greeting cards can purchase a set of 20 cards, measuring 5"x7" each, at an affordable Rs 200.
Theproject features works by artists like Arjun Kocchar, Birendra Pani, David de Souza, Delip Sharma, Dharmendra Rathore, Ebenezer Sundar Singh, Farhad Hussain, Gagan Singh, Jyoti Bhatt, Nayanaa Kanodia, Paritosh Sen, Prasanta Kalita, Rajendra Kapse, Roopak Sharma, Saaz Aggarwal, Sajal Sarkar, Sanjeev Sonpimpare, Shuvaprasanna, Suhas Roy and Sunil Gupta.
Onecan also take a look at greeting cards made from a growing number of NGOs. The Asha Foundation-sponsored village Guria (district Varanasi), for instance, has mobilised funds through greeting cards that are made by children.
Thesuccess of the sale of these handmade greeting cards has motivated Guria to undertake it as an important fundraising activity which has also economically supported a few elderly women. The cards are reasonably priced at Rs 15-20 per card, and available at select stores.So what would you like a greeting card for this festive season to be? A collector's item, an artist's impression, a designer's touch, or something that has been created by a child in a village?