Bangladesh Artisans

BODY1 - love knot sculpturePractical. Unique. Fun. Meaningful. Quality. Stories. Hand-crafted. Functional. Affordable. These words popped up repeatedly while researching the topic of the perfect wedding gifts from Ten Thousand Villages.

Marriage and weddings are top-of-mind around here these days (as are babies … but I’ll leave that topic to another blogger), since FOUR of my co-workers are engaged to be married. Summer is traditionally known as “wedding season,” so I thought a post about great wedding gifts would be appropriate. And who better to ask for their ideas than our brides- and grooms-to-be! They all graciously agreed to be interviewed because, really, who doesn’t like to talk about PRESENTS!

Gifts are fun. They’re exciting. And there’s probably not another event in your whole life where you get to sit around and open dozens of boxes and envelopes, all filled with wonderful things (again, except perhaps for baby showers). I asked my four colleagues to walk through the New Hamburg store with me and point out items they would give as gifts, as well as an item or two they and their significant other would love to receive to mark the beginning of their married lives.

P1060049There are many inspirational stories of individuals, groups and organizations tirelessly working for a better world, and for the fair and equitable treatment of all people. The world is riddled with challenges, but we can help to change things for the better by the actions we take every day.

A compelling quote by Jacques Diouf inspired and challenged me to reassess how I want to contribute to a more just world: “Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice.” It’s about the choices we make on a daily basis and the positive or negative effects they have on other human beings, the planet and other living creatures.

TOP - Exterior shot of mill“This is where you belong,” a customer said, when she discovered the Ten Thousand Villages location in St. Jacobs, Ontario had just opened this past May.

Back when Ten Thousand Villages (then known as SelfHelp Crafts) was just beginning, one of the first Canadian locations was in The Mill in St. Jacobs. Over the years, the store moved around the village, and finally settled down to become what is now the Waterloo store.

The St. Jacobs Mill is a beautifully restored historic building perched on the Conestoga River, with local and Canadian artisan weavers and potters tucked snugly in the silos. A local artist hosts his gallery next to the silos, and three museum displays and a model train fill the majority of the building. The street side entrance welcomes visitors with Scottish treasures, and is once again home to Ten Thousand Villages.

79 - PhilippinesWe periodically receive questions from customers such as:

  • Why does Ten Thousand Villages buy products from the specific groups you work with?
  • Why do you import from those particular countries and regions?
  • Are you open to adding new groups from new countries?

Ten Thousand Villages’ mission is to create “opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.” This drives everything we do, and we will not compromise our commitment to our Fair Trade principles.

Volunteers are LOVE in motion- AuthorIt is a great thing to find a place where one can volunteer among generous souls in support of a good cause. Work becomes a delight and co-workers become friends.

This has been my experience as a volunteer at the Dix Mille Villages shop on St-Denis in Montreal, where I have been helping out on a nearly weekly basis for more than a year.

As you may know, Dix Mille Villages (Ten Thousand Villages) relies heavily on volunteerism. It helps keep the cost of overhead down so more resources are available to fulfill the mission, it creates communities of support for the principles of Fair Trade, and it strengthens the society within which it functions. As journalist Brian O’Connell writes, “Volunteering creates a national character in which the community and the nation take on a spirit of compassion, comradeship and confidence.”

strutting-bird-tinFair Trade retailers like Ten Thousand Villages carry hundreds of pieces of beautiful work made by artisans from all over the world. Our mission is to bring these works of art to markets artisans wouldn’t otherwise have access to, while facilitating opportunities for disadvantaged people around the world to make a living doing dignified work.

When many people think about Fair Trade products, they often automatically assume they’ll be expensive, and that they’ll have to pay a premium to buy ethically. This simply isn’t true, though. Fair Trade retailers stock a wide variety of products that are inexpensive, while still beautiful and high quality.

IMG_20140526_175946Working at Ten Thousand Villages, I have the opportunity every day to learn about Fair Trade and see the positive impact this unique business model has on artisans and farmers in developing countries. It’s hard, though, to get a sense for how much the general public knows about what we do.

Christian Malleck and I wanted to evaluate the level of knowledge people in our city have about Fair Trade. So, one evening a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Uptown Waterloo’s Market Square. We chose this location because it has a high volume of pedestrian traffic and many retail shops nearby. Waterloo also has a pretty strong presence of Fair Trade, so it would be interesting to gauge the awareness in light of that.

Our setup was straightforward – just a table and a sign – and we didn’t say we were affiliated with Ten Thousand Villages, as we didn’t want to scare people away who thought we might be trying to sell them something. We asked just three questions, as our goal was simply to get a general idea of people’s awareness of Fair Trade, while also making sure we weren’t taking up too much of anyone’s time. (We used the tried-and-true technique of “bribing” people with chocolate!)

Clara's cake with ingredientsFor Colombian native Clara Salamanca, baking a “Hummingbird Cake” is truly a labour of love.

The tropical ingredients – dried pineapple, shredded coconut, sugar and bananas – remind her of home. And many of the dry ingredients can be purchased at the Granville Island Ten Thousand Villages store where she volunteers every Saturday afternoon.

Equally as important, the recipe is based on one she found in an Australian magazine she purchased while visiting her daughter Gabriela, who lives “down under.” This yummy dessert is therefore a beautiful reminder of a daughter she wishes she could see more frequently.

SteveAt Ten Thousand Villages, we recognize that our success is driven by the amazing staff and volunteers who work hard every day to keep the wheels turning.

One of our fine staff members is Steve Dorion. Steve has been with us for about three years – first on a temporary contract, and now permanently as Materials Handling Coordinator at our 58,000-square-foot distribution centre in New Hamburg, Ontario.

Steve wears many hats. But his primary responsibility is to ensure products are stored and organized well in our warehouse, and are easily accessible when it’s time for them to be picked for shipment to stores, festival sales and e-commerce customers.