Monday, December 19, 2011

It Takes a Vilage

Volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages Fair in Riverview is like spending a few days travelling through a host of different countries, learning about new cultures while being amazed at the creativity, ingenuity, and often humour of many artisans.

The focus is on providing Hope, Joy and Peace around the world through the sale of many useful and beautiful items.

Each year Sue and Steve Berube organise and host the Fair at St, Paul’s United Church.

The hall is transformed into a colourful bazaar; international music plays and children and adults are wide-eyed and admiring. It’s so much fun helping people find gifts that are hand-crafted, unique and give back as much as they give joy.

My favourite tables to help at are textiles and jewellery. I fell in love with two Bogolan, the strip–sewn mud cloths from West Africa. A rose madder one - for our dining table for Christmas - and an ochre one for my friend Pauline in Nunavut.

Overseeing the event this year were retirees Mavis and Jim Olesen from Regina. 

Though when Mavis told me they had spent the past four years overseas volunteering on educational projects, retirees doesn’t seem the right word.  After the Fair they headed home to unpack many boxes of things they hadn’t seen in that time.

This year Ten Thousand Villages celebrated 65 years of Fair Trade, helping 60,000 people in 35 countries, mmostly in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. It all began in 1946 when Edna Ruth Byler, a Mennonite Central Committee worker, brought back embroideries from Puerto Rico. In 1970 Self Help Crafts was formed, in 1996 the new name was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi who said “India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages.”

Ten Thousand Villages encourages artisans to use environmentally sustainable, natural, recycled materials and production methods. Artisans are paid fifty percent of the total up front to help them pay for the raw materials. The remainder is paid once the products are complete. This means the artisans are paid in full before their products get to North America - even if they never get sold.

It works with many people who are disadvantaged because of disability, gender or ethnicity and people who can provide training and employment to those who have virtually no chance of securing employment in the mainstream labor market.

My other `gift to us` was a CD of music from India – to transport me back to the beauty, ancient spirituality, and poverty, of that country that inspires me.

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