What a gift it was to return to Guatemala recently. My husband Peter was with me this time and I had the privilege of introducing him to the artisan groups I met last year. He was as enamored as I was with the people, the country and the incredible talent of the artisans.
It was a joy to visit the Sharing the Dream Elder Program in Santiago Atitlan again and see my old friends Bernabela, Diana, Estella and Miguel. When we sat down with Bernabela, the director of the beading group, I felt like I was home. Her radiant smile and hearty laughter warmed my heart yet again. Her sense of humor is contagious, as she joked with Peter (“Pedro”), trying to communicate with him given his limited Spanish. At one point we were designing some new jewelry for the spring and there were several trays of tiny beads we were choosing from. Bernabela accidentally knocked over a tray and the beads were scattered all over the floor, mixing the colors in a total mess. After about a second of shock, Bernabela let out an uproarious laugh and that was that – no crisis! And we did manage to design some stunning jewelry.
Then we were off to San Juan La Laguna. San Juan is a stunningly beautiful village on top of a hill overlooking Lake Atitlan, known for its hand woven textiles made from plant dyed fibers. The streets are lined with artisan cooperatives filled with the most beautiful weavings imaginable – a fair traders paradise! When we came across a cooperative with a sign out front that said, “Comercio Justo y Solidario” (“Fair Trade and Solidarity" in Spanish) we were in heaven. The fact that fair trade had made it to a tiny Mayan village was heartwarming indeed.
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world and the people there have suffered tremendously through the long civil war and its aftermath. It is my hope that helping the artisans expand the market for their beautiful handicrafts through fair trade can at least make a small difference, one individual at a time.
Today, December 1, marks two very special events – #FairTuesday and #GivingTuesday.
#FairTuesday is an ethical shopping movement developed in response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The goal of #FairTuesday is to inspire conscious consumerism and show how an everyday purchase can change lives in a whole community. #FairTuesday features fair trade, ethical, and eco-friendly brands all dedicated to creating positive, sustainable change.
On #GivingTuesday charities, families, businesses, community centers and students around the world come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
It warms my heart to know that there are large groups of people increasingly committed to giving and using the power of the dollar to change the world. We thoughtfully deliberated how to incorporate these 2 “holidays” here at Women’s Peace Collection. As a fair trade company we wanted to make sure to join the #Fair Tuesday movement, but of course we are all about giving and generosity! Last week we donated 10% of all sales on Black Friday to Hands in Outreach, a group in Nepal that provides education to girls in Nepal. That was part of yet another exciting new movement, #GoodKarmaIsTheNewBlackFriday.
We ultimately decided that offering our customers a #FairTuesday discount is an act of giving in a number of ways. First, we express our appreciation to the people who buy our products, because without your support our artisan partners would not have a source of income. To that end, we are also giving to our artisan partners since more sales means a higher standard of living for them. And we are giving to the environment since our products are sustainably produced. In addition, we are hopefully raising consciousness about fair trade and socially conscious shopping, thus doing our part in making this world a better place!
In the spirit of #GivingTuesday I also want to remind you of an ongoing opportunity to give every time you make a WPC purchase. We give 10% of all sales to an amazing organization, Dining for Women, every time you purchase something at WPC through their website link. To learn more about how they help women all over the world and to shop through their site go to www.diningforwomen.org .
Let this special Tuesday be a day of generosity, love and gratitude for all!
We are thrilled that after a rigorous and lengthy application process Women’s Peace Collection was recently accepted as a Fair Trade Federation member! And that it happened during October, Fair Trade Month, is even more exciting! Our business is growing and we are expanding our market to support increasing numbers of artisans around the world, so we wanted to make sure our customers know that we are fully committed to the fair trade principles that the Federation represents.
I haven’t written anything as comprehensive as the FTF application since I was in graduate school (a long time ago), but the exercise was extremely useful - it enabled me to gain a stronger understanding of fair trade and to fully evaluate our business in order to ensure that Women’s Peace Collection is staying true to all of the FTF principles.
So what exactly is fair trade? Here’s the definition from the FTF website: “Fair trade is an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system. Fair trade supports farmers and craftspeople in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized."
The Fair Trade Federation is a community of businesses committed to 360 degrees fair trade! The members are thoroughly screened based on the following 9 principles of fair trade:
We are so excited to be able to inform all of our customers and readers that we passed all of these principles with flying colors! We are fully committed to creating opportunities for marginalized artisans around the world, ensuring safe and ecologically sustainable working conditions and making sure the artisans are paid promptly. And we love being a part of the wonderful FTF member community of passionate, committed, loving folks all devoted to helping impoverished people around the world!
Fair trade provides a unique opportunity for consumers, businesses and organizations to work together to create a better world for millions of people simply by choosing where and how one spends their dollar! Thanks for being part of our community and supporting us in this endeavor.
September in the U.S. means back to school and it’s easy to take for granted the fact that every child in this country is guaranteed a free, public education. We all know that there are true inequities in the education our children receive, with wealthier communities having more resources and therefore access to better facilities, books, and a variety of educational materials and course offerings. However, the fact remains that every child living in the United States, including undocumented immigrants, is guaranteed a public school education, often including free breakfast and lunch options.
You must know where I’m heading – yes, in countries all over the world there is either no free public schooling, or if there is, families must pay for books, uniforms, school fees, and other expensive supplies. Many families cannot begin to afford to send their children to school and they often need their kids at home working to contribute to the household income.
Education is yet another area where fair trade really shines! In my conversations with suppliers as well as my travels I hear over and over that by creating employment opportunities for parents with fair wages they are able to earn enough to pay school fees as well as keep their kids in school longer. Employ the parents, educate the children! Many of the fair trade organizations, both non-profits and for-profits, are also donating to and even building new schools all over the world. And other groups are focusing exclusively on income for education, such as the mother’s cooperative in Kenya that crafts our beautiful mobiles. The goal of the cooperative is to make enough money to send all of the children to school, as Kenya has no public school system.
One of the many highlights of my trip to Guatemala last winter was a visit to the Chacaya School (photos attached). A fair trade organization, Sharing the Dream, bought the land for the school close to where the families live so that the school is accessible by foot. Sharing the Dream also pays the salary for one teacher as well as school supplies for all children. The kids were incredibly adorable and friendly!
So give your kids a kiss, put them on the bus, and be grateful for their education!
As I think about Mother’s Day and all of the amazing women out there who would do anything for their kids I feel compelled to tell the story of a woman I met in Guatemala this winter.
One afternoon during the fair trade artisan trip I was on we rode way up into the mountains where a small community of women were backstrap weaving. As we did every day during our journey, we listened to their stories! The women told of their experiences during the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980’s. During that 10 year period there were many days when they had nothing but water to drink, and at night when they heard the military coming into their village they would take their children and hide in the mountains, awake all night until they knew they were safe to come down. They told us that the babies weren’t allowed to cry because it would alert the army (I still keep wondering how they stopped the babies from crying!). And then they said that when the adults needed to cry or express themselves they would go into a cave and scream in order to discharge their feelings.
One of these young children was Isabel. Isabel grew up extremely poor. By the time she was 8 years old she was already a very skilled weaver and wanted to quit school to help her mom support the family. But Isabel’s mother insisted she stay in school. At times the children didn’t even have shoes or clothing , so the mother cut her own “corte” (the traditional Mayan skirt) in half to make one for each of her daughters. Every year or two Isabel tried to leave school so she could weave full time, but as much as the family needed the income from her weaving her mother continued to encourage her to stay in school, knowing that it was the only way out of poverty. This was highly unusual in Guatemala where the average indigenous person has a third grade education!
So Isabel stayed in school. Her health was very poor due to lack of good nutrition and health care and her vision was also compromised. But her extraordinary, willful mother continued to encourage her, year after year, to finish her education. And Isabel did. Eventually she was connected with a fair trade organization that employed her to weave for them. Today Isabel is the Artisan Development Coordinator for a well-established, fair trade non-profit that does amazing work in Guatemala. She has a full time salary, health insurance, eye glasses and is in excellent health! Her responsibilities are enormous – she overseas huge artisan projects and is also the treasurer for the organization. And when groups come from the United States she is also the head chef! And she is happily married with a baby of her own.
As she told her story, I kept thinking over and over of her mother and the strength and foresight she had to have faith in her daughter, and sacrifice the needs of the present moment for her future. And I was also yet again profoundly moved by the impact of fair trade on the lives of so many. It gave me hope a newfound hope!
So to Isabel’s mom and all of the extraordinary mothers out there – happy Mother’s Day! It’s the most important job in the world.
An Amazing Fair Trade Women’s Cooperative: Bamboo Scarves
On a recent trip to Guatemala while driving up a winding road through the stunning Lake Atitlan area, our driver stopped in a tiny village to let us off at a fair trade cooperative. Who would ever dream that inside is a thriving business, run by entirely by women with very little formal education? The first thing that struck me was the colors, as is often the case in Guatemala. I love color and Guatemala is the most colorful place I’ve ever been.! The building was covered with hanging bamboo scarves of every color combination imaginable, all woven by hand through an ancient, intricate, labor-intensive process.
This women’s cooperative was founded in 1987 during the genocide that was occurring in Guatemala, leaving thousands of women as widows with no income to support their families. It was founded by a man from Vancouver who was looking for a source of income for 17 widows, all of whom were backstrap weavers. Over the years, the cooperative has grown into a large organization, with a Board of Directors, a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and full time bookkeeper! Of the 180 women, most are able to work from home, although some do weave in the shop so we were able to see the process in action.
And it is quite a process! The bamboo is spun, dyed (using non-toxic dyes), dried in the sun, wound for proper scarf length, and then woven on the backstrap loom. Backstrap weaving is the oldest method of making cloth in the world, and it originated with the Maya people! It is very hard on the body, as the women are generally kneeling, so it is painful to the knees and back. (However, the women we saw were sitting on chairs especially created for them that were donated by NGO’s). The loom is literally strapped around the woman’s back while she weaves. It was fascinating to watch the process, and I was in awe of the incredible beauty and intricacy of the weaving.
Many people are surprised that bamboo can feel so good, but I promise you, it is one of the softest fibers around. It is absolutely as soft as silk, and you cannot help but say, “ooooooh” when you feel it! And the colors are truly, truly gorgeous!
Best of all, the women are earning two to four times what they would make selling their wares in the market! And due to increased earnings the families are eating healthier foods, have access to medicine, the children are able to stay in school longer, and the status of women in the society has improved. And preserving the ancient culture of backstrap weaving is a gift to the world!
Yet again, this is why I am so passionate about fair trade, and seeing it in action firsthand was an experience I will remember my whole life.
Happy International Women’s Day!
I love this holiday! What a great way to honor and acknowledge women all over the world. IWD celebrates women and girls, no matter their religion, nationality, income level or marital status. Many countries have declared it a national holiday (not the United States, although we have designated the whole month of March as Women’s History Month). In some countries it has gained the status of Mother’s Day, where children give small gifts to their mothers and grandmothers and men honor the women in their lives with flowers and gifts of appreciation.
International Women’s Day has a long history. It was originally organized by the Socialist Party of America to commemorate the strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union in 1908. That year 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, higher wages and voting rights. You go girls! The United Nations has declared it a holiday that promotes women’s rights, global peace and gender equality. Every year on March 8 there are thousands of events worldwide to inspire women, celebrate their achievements, and continue to fight for gender equality.
International Women’s Day fits in perfectly with the mission of the Women’s Peace Collection. As I pondered how to celebrate this day in our own small way I decided to donate a percentage of our sales to one of my all time favorite organizations that helps women across the globe: Dining for Women. In my small town in Western Massachusetts we have a very active chapter of DFW. Here’s how it works: each month DFW features an international program that supports a women’s issue. Chapters all over the country hold potluck gatherings and the idea is that each participant donates roughly what they would spend going out to dinner to the featured program. The featured programs work with educating girls, teaching women skills, helping develop a market for artisan products, fighting gender inequality, providing access to better healthcare, and much, much more!
Dining for Women’s motto is this: “Changing the world, one woman, one girl, one dinner at time.” Please help us change the world - your children, mothers and grandmothers across the globe will be so grateful!
(Read more about Dining for Women at: www.diningforwomen.org).