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.”
I love that our shops are places of welcome and education. Each item in the shop has a story to tell and I enjoy finding out about various items and sharing the information with our visitors. People are touched when we offer samples of the chocolate and cups of coffee and tea, so that they can taste our wonderful products. Putumayo’s international music is always playing, and we are surrounded by a wide array of household items and gifts.
As I move through the store, dusting or rearranging shelves, I never stop being awed by people’s creativity and skillfulness.
Promoting Fair Trade is important to me. But here in Quebec, I experience an added bonus. Our shop is in a predominately French-speaking neighbourhood – and as someone who struggles to speak French, I have found that most customers are kind and encourage me to keep practising.
With the lingering cold and snow near the end of the winter, I was feeling a bit “under the weather.” I wasn’t sure I could smile and practise speaking in French – but then I thought of the people who worked for less than a dollar a day, who live well below what we call poverty. I remembered why I do this. This is my way of trying to bring balance back to the world. Some of my clothing comes from sweatshops, and some of the people who pick my fruits and vegetables are hungry and are forced to become indebted. My four hours a week began to feel very small in comparison.
And yet, my four hours a week becomes something else. Any work I do with Dix Mille Villages is an act of solidarity. When I was in seminary, I called it “prayer on location.” It is a joyful way of working with others to promote fairness and justice.
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