Thursday, September 6, 2007

It Takes 10,000 Villages

International nonprofit organization promotes fair trade

by Anthonia Akitunde

Right on the tail of “green,” “fair trade” has been on the lips of conscientious shoppers everywhere for some time. Fair trade has put a human face on consumerism as the global community opens up before us; we have become more aware of where our purchases come from and their affects on the environment and community they originate from. Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit fair trade organization, has been at the helm of the fair trade movement in North America -- long before the United States isolationist curtain fell.

In 1946, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) volunteer Edna Ruth Byler visited a sewing class in Puerto Rico sponsored by the organization, which does relief (CLICK HERE FOR MORE) and service work around the world. Byler noticed both the skill of the craftspeople’s wares and their abject poverty. She brought embroidered pieces and woodenware back to her home in Akron, Pa., selling the wares to friends and neighbors out of the trunk of her car. Soon stores sprang up around the country as “[Byler's] business of helping others' businesses grew” and the nonprofit retail network of Ten Thousand Villages was born.

Today, Ten Thousand Villages is one of the largest and oldest fair trade organizations in the world, with more than 160 stores in the United States and Canada. “I think ultimately people do care about other people,” says Cheryl Nester-Detweiler, assistant manager of Evanston's branch. “And they also want to make a difference in other people's lives.”

Ten Thousand Villages purchases and sells quality products from over 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, working with more than 100 artisan groups. The organization provides the artisans a fair, living wage. “It's not sweat-shop labor; it's a wage that's decent so they can have housing for themselves, send their kids to school, eat three meals a day -- basically have a better lifestyle,” Nester-Detweiler explains.

The effects of an artisan group working with a fair-trade organization are felt throughout the village, Nester-Detweiler notes: “If people are able to buy food for their families, other people are then getting more money because people are buying food from them.” The central offices in Lancaster County, Pa., buy directly from artisan groups, paying 50 percent up front -- to buy materials they need for the order -- and the rest when they finish the order. “When the actual items come to the U.S., all the items have been paid in full,” says Nester-Detweiler. “When the inventory at our home office in Pennsylvania is low, it enables [us] to buy more. So your purchases help us buy more and more from the artisans.”

Tomorrow starts off an Oriental Rug Event and Seminar at the Ten Thousand Village in Evanston. In its fifth year, the sale will have more than 300 heirloom quality Pakistani rugs available for purchase as well as an Introduction to Oriental Rugs seminar. “It's just a really fun event for us to host in the store -- something different for the customers and for us,” Nester-Detweiler says.

The Oriental Rug Event and Seminar will be held Sept. 7-15 at Evanston's Ten Thousand Villages (719 Main, 847/733-8258);