I think we can all remember moments in our lives when something we experienced moved us to the core of our being, and stuck with us for years.
Perhaps it was a stirring eulogy at your best friend’s funeral. Or an unexpected thank-you note from someone you had no idea you’d impacted so profoundly. Or your child’s look of fear/confusion/elation as he took his first steps. Or perhaps you’ve witnessed someone overcome a debilitating obstacle, and were left with a sense of awe at her persistence and drive to do whatever was required to beat the odds.
I don’t know about you, but I can think of many times throughout my life when an experience affected me so deeply and became forever ingrained in my mind and on my heart. And as I write this, many such experiences that are clearest for me occurred over the last four months, as I’ve had the opportunity to visit several of Ten Thousand Villages’ partners in Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh and Colombia.
There’s no way to fully prepare yourself for what you’ll experience on these types of trips. My journey to Indonesia at the end of October was my first opportunity to visit artisan workshops, and see firsthand the incredible impact fair trade relationships can make. There are so many stories I could share – and over time, I’ll certainly share as many as I can. But today I want to focus on my unforgettable experience visiting Mitra Bali – the first artisan group we spent time with in Indonesia, and my first opportunity to witness firsthand the many ways fair trade changes lives.
When you travel as a tourist to any foreign country, there are always new sights and smells, the sounds of people speaking in languages you can’t understand, and the inevitable feeling of being an outsider to everything going on around you. It’s easy to feel nervous, or even frightened, in such an unfamiliar environment. Even for me – and I’ve done a fair bit of globetrotting in my lifetime – I often find myself having to fight the urge to put my head down and withdraw into myself when I’m surrounded by people who behave and speak in ways I’m not accustomed to.
But I quickly discovered something that changed everything for me: When you have the chance to get “off the beaten track” and visit the homes of everyday people who are just trying to create happy, meaningful, stable lives, you instantly realize that “those people” on the other side of the world are just like you and me.
Even in the face of much poverty and limited opportunities – challenges I’ve not had to face, in large part simply because of where I was born – I heard story after story that was dripping with gratefulness for past obstacles overcome, and hopefulness about the future. I was moved to tears several times by the tenacity and passion Mitra Bali’s skilled artisans exhibited as they worked to beat the odds and build stable lives for themselves, their extended families, and their children.
The day-to-day realities of the amazing people I met in Bali were very different from my own. Their definition of “progress” – how they would measure their success at achieving their dreams for the future – was worlds apart from my expectations for life. And yet, as we sat and shared coffee and food together, and talked openly about work and family and life’s challenges, I felt a deep human connection that transcended all cultural, religious and language barriers.
We live in a world where fear and talk of protecting ourselves from other human beings only seem to be increasing. But there are many signs of hope, if you’re willing to look for them.
My time with Mitra Bali filled me with hope for the future of humanity: It is possible for people on opposite sides of the world to work together as partners in building a more just, more equitable global economy.
This is the kind of unique approach to doing business that long-term fair trade relationships makes possible. And especially in this time when many feel compelled to build walls and create systems that isolate us from those who act and think differently, this is the kind of unconventional business model I can get excited about.
I am a different person because of this trip. I am grateful to the artisans and leaders of Mitra Bali who took time out of their busy lives to remind me that we are all part of one global extended family.