Fair Trade: This Christmas, Give a Gift That Comes with a Story

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A handmade nativity set from Ten Thousand Villages is an example of fair-trade gifts available online.

Tasha Simons tells about meeting Tavi, cofounder—along with Center for Global Impact—of byTavi, a “faith-based micro-enterprise initiative . . . [that] teaches at-risk, impoverished women how to sew handbags and other accessories”:

She shared her heart, telling me how she lost both her husband and daughter to AIDS and how Center for Global Impact (CGI) had helped her learn a skill. Now with the income from making purses, she could send each of her kids to school and purchase needed medicine to help her stay well as she also has AIDS. Tavi also shared about the pride she has in her home. She was able to replace her mud floor with a cement one, which significantly improved her living conditions. When we finished talking, she asked: “Will you be my sister?”

Along with Tavi, there are currently over 40 Cambodian women in the byTavi workshop. Another one of them is Sreymao, who serves as a manager and designer. One of her creations is the “Wave Bag,” a large multi-purpose bag with four slip pockets hidden in a colorful wave design.

I learned about byTavi last week when I spent a day at the International Conference on Missions (ICOM) in Kansas City and got to see some of their products firsthand. It is certainly not the largest organization selling “fair-trade” gifts and crafts online, but it’s on my list of online retailers with which I’ve had some sort of personal connection. Maybe you’ll see something you like, or maybe you’ll be spurred on to look for other outlets. (If you want something much more extensive—and maybe a little overwhelming—try the Fair Trade Federation’s searchable online shopping site.)

So here you go, four sources for gifts with stories:

  • byTavi
    Besides the Wave Bag, byTavi also sells handcrafted elephant coin purses, scarves, totes, and quite a bit more. You can even see photos of the Cambodian seamstresses—and read about many of them—at their site.
  • Rapha House’s Freedom Store
    Rapha House International is a ministry that fights child trafficking and sexual exploitation by, among other things, providing safehouses for girls in southeast Asia and by helping them move beyond residential care through emotional support and vocational training. Rapha House’s first safehouse was established in Cambodia, and their home office is located in Joplin, Missouri (where I live). Their Freedom Store includes such items as bracelets, cosmetic bags, and backpacks.
  • Saffron Coffee
    The Saffron Coffee Company sells “100% shade grown organic Arabica coffee” from the mountains of northern Laos and processed outside the city of Luang Prabang. It was started by a friend of mine and his Laotian wife (whom I just met at ICOM) to give hilltribe farmers a sustainable cash crop, replacing the opium poppies that they used to grow. The company sells bags of several types of coffee—ground and as beans—as well as green coffee beans by the pound.
  • Ten Thousand Villages
    OK, this is one of the largest fair-trade organizations.. But I’d never heard about it until I read that a group of college students and academic and business leaders in nearby (to me) Pittsburg, Kansas, had opened up a store selling their wares from around the globe. Started in 1946, Ten Thousand Villages offers a wide variety of  “unique handmade gifts, jewelry, home decor, art and sculpture, textiles, serveware and personal accessories,” fashioned by “disadvantaged artisans” in 38 countries. (Info about these artisans is included throughout their Website.) They even have a clearance section, featuring more Christmas ornaments than you can shake a handmade chopstick at.

(Tasha Simons, “My Sister Tavi,” byTavi, May 2, 2013; Kristen Baynai, “byTavi Spurs Creativity,” byTavi, May 21, 2013)

 [photo: “Village Festival 7,” by pennstatenews, used under a Creative Commons license]

Serving Globally: The Tuggings on Our Souls

244870161_2a9468bb74_mI’d like to point you toward two recent thought-provoking articles from Christianity Today. Both appear under CT‘s “This Is Our City” banner.

The first is written by Rachel Pieh Jones, who blogs at Djibouti Jones. It’s titled “You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice,” with the tag, “Why the activism of some fellow Americans scares me.”

At her blog Jones writes,

Today I have an article at Christianity Today and I’m kinda scared about it. [. . .] The article looks at the current trends of using intentional purchases (fair trade coffee, etc) to fight injustice worldwide, from the perspective of someone (me) who has spent more than a decade living overseas, working toward development and human dignity in the Horn of Africa. [. . .] I’m afraid people will be offended or get mad. [. . .] But . . . well . . . there it is. I have a lot to learn, which I hope comes across in the essay and I look forward to learning from you because overwhelmingly, you challenge me to think better, to not be complacent, and you handle my messy process with grace.

From the CT article: “I have a theory about what is partly contributing to the dearth of young Americans willing to spend their lives on behalf of others,” Jones writes. “They think they already are.”

The second article is “Choosing Marriage over the Mission Field,” about “How Tim Kietzman, a successful missionary eye doctor, chose quiet faithfulness despite enormous needs in Pakistan.”

After moving with his family overseas, Kietzman served 10 years as an ophthalmologist in the Pakistani valley of Gilgit. But according to the article, his “boldest act for God may have been coming home from Pakistan to repair his marriage of almost 30 years.”

How he came to make that choice involved re-understanding something Kietzman calls the “Isaac syndrome.” “Missionary kids are the sacrificial child for their parents doing what God wants them to do,” he said. “A lot of times they feel like they’re under the knife . . . like they’re second-class citizens.” Compounded by the sense of missing out on their home culture, the Isaac syndrome can leave missionary kids with spiritual baggage.

The Kietzmans returned to the States when “the Isaac role quietly fell on their marriage,” when it “eventually proved too much.”

Read these articles to have your thoughts challenged on making a difference globally—challenged by people who are not writing about theories, but who are writing about the push and pull and stretch and pressures on their own lives—lived “over there” and “over here.”

(Rachel Pieh Jones, “Why I’m Afraid of American Christians,” Djibouti Jones, May 15, 2013; Rachel Pieh Jones, “You Can’t Buy Your Way to Social Justice,” Christianity Today, May 14, 2013; Anna Broadway, “Choosing Marriage over the Mission Field,” Christianity Today, June 13, 2013)

[photo: “Tug of War,” by toffehoff, used under a Creative Commons license]