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by Jennifer Patterson

Albany—Maria Pool has been traveling in Africa for decades, witnessing firsthand the struggles millions face every day.

“I see poverty from the time I open my eyes in the morning,” said Pool, who lives in Tanzania and is consul general of Seychelles, an archipelago of more than 100 islands 1,000 miles off the east coast of Africa. “The people are heartbroken because they can’t make enough money to feed their families, no matter how hard they work.”

Pool was at a roadside market in Zimbabwe when she realized she could help struggling craftsmen earn a stable income by bringing their work to the Western market.

Pool started African Reflections in 2005 with her friend, Sajida Mamdani, whom she met in the Capital Region. Since its launch, the fair trade business has paid 28 groups of craftsmen more than $100,000 in a part of the world where it’s common to make less than a dollar per day, Pool said.

Sajida Mamdani was born in Zanzibar, which is part of Tanzania, and moved to the United States 30 years ago. She has been living in Albany for 27 years.

African Reflections has expanded from a kiosk at Empire State Plaza to two stores in Colonie Center and Crossgates Mall, which sell handmade products, including hand-crafted ebony carvings, Kisii soapstone statues, paintings and Masai jewelry.

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