Giving Back by Giving Gifts

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    The people on your holiday shopping list sure are picky. Ann only wants one-of-a-kind art, Cindy likes when proceeds go to charity and Tina has dedicated herself to a fair-trade lifestyle. Instead of visiting 10,000 villages trying to find the perfect gift for everyone, go to Ten Thousand Villages to find the perfect gift for everyone. This O’Byronville-based non-profit, fair trade retailer specializes in selling fine wares of the world. So, when you buy a cute scarf, delicate earrings or handcrafted throw from Ten Thousand Villages, you’re giving more than just a beautiful holiday gift. You’re also giving talented artisans around the world a chance at a sustainable career and life.


    0208GIBBERMAN.gif “Chose anything; every product has a story behind it. And they’re all are made by a human being,” says Executive Director Elizabeth Russ, who manages the Cincinnati area store. Russ has been with the organization for three years.


    The holiday season generally is the busiest time of the year for retailer, but with the slowing economy, sales have been slower so far this year. But they seem to be picking up as the season gets closer, she says. That might be because people are dedicated to Ten Thousand Village’s mission, and want to give in a spirit of charity, often missing in gift giving, Russ says.


    “People are still buying here because it’s a more meaningful purchase,” she says.


    The Thousand Villages helped found the International Fair Trade Association and is a member of the Fair Trade Federation. The goal is to help artisans from developing countries across the globe sell their crafts at a fair price, affording them a sustainable livelihood. The retailer has a special focus on people who are especially disadvantaged and might not have another way to earn a living.


    The O’Bryonville shop is volunteer run, except for two paid staff positions. With the exception of extra staff sometimes hired for the holidays, 75 volunteers staff the retailer, Russ says.


    One of the retailer’s long time suppliers is the Ankur Kala cooperative in India. The center provides self-employment to women, often the victims of exploitation, by helping them produce a variety of goods including batik crafts and food. The cooperative focuses on the whole woman, offering them reading and writing lessons and education in business skills. The cooperative, founded in 1982, also works to prevent trafficking of young girls, while giving women the tools to support themselves financially through their own hard work and business smarts. Ankur Kala provides beautiful tied-dyed textiles to Ten Thousand Villages. And that’s just one of the compelling stories behind the hundreds of products in the store.


    There’s also APIKRI founded in 1987 by a fair trade organization of 25 handicraft producers called the Pekerti Foundation. It was started as a way to combat high unemployment in the Central Java and Yogyarkarta areas of Indonesia. APIKRI also provides members with export marketing services and microcredit loans. Ten Thousand Villages purchases batik items, wood products, jewelry and more from the organization.


    “Basically when you buy something here, you’re giving twice,” Russ says. “You’re giving to a loved one or a friend, and you’re giving to the artisan.”


    The idea behind Ten Thousand Villages, a program of the , is basic, yet profound, explains Russ. “Everything is hand-crafted by artisans in Third-World countries, and artists that we have had contact with for many, many years. The mission is very simple. It is to market the products of Third-World artists.”


    The O’Bryonville shop is one of 140 stores across North American, Ross said. If you can’t make it to the store, products can be found online, as can a Gift Registry.


    Among possible gifts are a translucent glass star ornament from Ghana for $6, a smooth serving bowl from Indonesian made from recycled alumni for $28, a handmade soap set from India for $12 and a rounded ceramic hand-painted garden stool for $78. There also are many types of unique jewelry, purses, clothes, rugs, hand-made baskets, toys and more. Gifts range in price, but many can be found for under $25. The gifts also have an environmental component, made from recycled or items that otherwise would go into landfills or the trash. One of Ten Thousand Village’s more unique items is the Women’s Hope card line. The cards are made by a group of women in north India, who make the paper cards from discarded cloth.


    “They grow gardens of flowers, and pick wildflowers, press them into the cards and glue them on,” Russ says.


    A vendor from Vermont who travels to India brings the cards to the shop, where they’re sold. Proceeds go to the women.


    Among the world regions Ten Thousand villages draws from are Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and South and East Asia. Specific countries include India, Chile, Peru, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The biggest supplies are from India and Indonesia. Only a small percentage of things aren’t Fair Trade certified including music and books, though their sales support the mission, according to Russ.


    Ten Thousand Villages’ giving spirit also benefits local organizations. Several times throughout the year, it holds shopping days for local organizations. The participating organizations invite members and supporters to shop at Ten Thousand Villages in the organization’s behalf. In turn, Ten Thousand Villages donates a portion of the sales to that organization.


    If you’d like to know which organizations participate in these special shopping days, you can go the retailer where a calendar lists them, Russ says. Among the organizations that have benefited from Ten Thousand Villages donations are MUSE Women’s Choir, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Health Resources Center, University of Cincinnati childcare, St. Ursala and more.


    Photo: Amy Storer-Scalia

    Location: Ten Thousand Villages

    Model: Elizabeth Russ