One of my fondest childhood memories is when my Peruvian relatives came to visit, bringing stuffed llamas, ethnic dolls, and soft-as-silk llama rugs as gifts. Even though I knew nothing about where they came from, my fascination with all things Peru was born!
Fast forward to 1982. As a recent college graduate all I wanted to do was go to Peru, so off I went, alone, with only my backpack and a one-way ticket. I spent several months traveling to exotic places; hiking in the Andes, getting deathly ill in the jungle, visiting Macchu Picchu, and venturing off to Ecuador with it’s stunning beaches and mountains. All along the way I met the warmest, kindest people in the world, my Spanish getting better by the day so I could communicate with them in their language (although for many indigenous people Spanish was also their second language).
What struck me then was that these people had “nothing” by U.S. standards, yet they were the most welcoming people I’d ever met, inviting me into their homes, offering me food and friendship. And then there were the artisans! From the stunning array of hand woven articles in Cuzco to the mindboggling, colorful Otavalo market in Ecuador, I was awestruck by the talent of these “poor, uneducated” people.
Thus my interest in fair trade business was sprouted, although I had never heard of fair trade at the time. My dream was to have an import-export business, selling beautiful, handmade products from Latin America, while helping artisans earn a living and improving their quality of life. Sure sounds like fair trade! I dabbled in it for a while, selling jewelry to friends that I had made out of hand painted beads from Peru, but my path led me elsewhere, as I entered graduate school in social work a couple of years later.
Fast forward again to 2013. After 28 years as a social worker/psychotherapist, my dream to have a fair trade business was still gnawing at me, a calling that I could no longer ignore. While I love my career as a social worker, which over the years has included working with female victims of domestic violence, refugees from all over the world, hospice patients, and wonderful clients from all walks of life, I knew that I wanted to expand my work.
Knowing that there were millions of people living in extreme poverty all over the world, that young girls were victims of human trafficking, that there were people living in refugee camps, displaced from their homes forever, haunted me. And I knew that many of these people had incredible talents that I, as a privileged North American, could help translate into income for them.
Serendipitously I met Amber Chand, the founder of the Women’s Peace Collection, and in the fall of 2013 I started the Latin American Collection on the WPC website. I was in my element, and Amber and I hit it off instantly. One thing led to another and as Amber was moving on to other passions of hers, I was stepping into my dream.
Alas, I am the new owner of this wonderful, inspiring business and am happy beyond belief about bringing my customers the most exquisite, hand made products I can find and doing my small part in enhancing the quality of the lives of talented artisans throughout the world.
June 13, 2014
We all know the saying, but what does it really mean?
People sometimes ask me why they should buy artisan products instead of just giving a financial donation to a cause. It’s a good question, of course, so I’d like to shed some light on the answer.
I decided to purchase the Women’s Peace Collection because of my passion to help marginalized, yet talented, women from around the world. All over the globe there are women and families who are starving, in refugee camps, victims of human trafficking and a whole host of other financial and social problems. While making financial contributions or volunteering in developing countries are both extremely valuable, I know deep down that the way to really make a lasting difference in peoples’ lives is to empower them to support themselves.
Research shows that investing in women is most often the key to success in a family and community. Women are committed to raising families, ensuring the well-being of the children, and making sure everyone is safe, fed, has adequate health care and whenever possible, educated. This is not at all to say that men don’t have similar interests and values, but it has been shown time and again that if you empower women with a way to support themselves they will do it and will save money and re-invest it in their businesses and their families.
So the time has come to teach these women to fish! They already have the skills as talented weavers, jewelers, basket makers, embroiderers and seamstresses. Teaching them to fish involves helping them with business skills, marketing, financial planning and saving. They often need to be shown what types of products men and women in the United States and other developed countries will buy. They then use their skills to produce contemporary styles that people will buy, hence creating more income to make more products and lo and behold, they are in business!
In comes the Fair Trade movement. I will write about Fair Trade in more detail in future blogs, but the essence of it is to pay artisans and farmers in third world countries fair wages in order to ensure that they have a sustainable livelihood. There are NGO’s and fair trade businesses worldwide helping women out of poverty through social enterprise. They are not only helping women set up viable businesses, but are creating health clinics, schools and libraries in communities worldwide. Some women entrepreneurs are even getting microloans and are re-investing and growing their businesses, which they then pass down to their children. They are working in artisan cooperatives all across the globe, finally able to support themselves and their families. These women have clearly learned to fish and are fishing their way out of poverty!
How great is that???