When I lived in South Africa, for the last six months of my service I worked with an organization called the Valoyi Traditional Authority Trust, which was created to lift the Valoyi people up and give them skills to find jobs and become independent.
South Africa has a ridiculously high unemployment rate, officially at about 25%, but possibly ballooning to 40%, depending on who you talk to and the age group considered. Being a more affluent nation in Sub Saharan Africa, they do have a social welfare program that supports those who are unemployed, disabled, or old enough to collect pension. With the unemployment rate, many people live most of their lives on the social grants, which aren’t really enough to live. You can probably buy enough food to eat most days, but it’s not enough to live, thrive, and have dignity.
When I found out the Valoyi Trust had once participated in a fair trade program, I was ecstatic. It wasn’t going on when I arrived because the women hadn’t been able to sell their goods, but I was amazing by the beautifully beaded clothing items and the meticulously stitched wall hangings. My goal was to connect them with a fair trade store stateside who would be willing to sell their products. And although I tried to contact a fair trade organization in my college town, life happened and long story short…I fell and was injured, and was med-evaced home, ending my service and my work with the Valoyi people. (My work with the Valoyi people has nothing to do with the Fair Trade Friday Club…except that I saw the impact of fair trade on a personal level.)
The amazing thing was that I saw the pride and joy, in the faces of my supervisors, who didn’t even make the items. The women who crafted the items were HIV positive mothers were, for the most part, considered an inactive part of the economy. They had minimal schooling, few skills, and were “burdened” with disease and children, which made finding a normal job difficult. They lived on the margins, trying to make ends meet on a too-small welfare check. They faced hunger, which exacerbated their inability to comply with their antiretroviral medicines for their HIV.
Living life mouthful to mouthful is a scary, defeating, demoralizing way to live, and yet millions and millions of mothers just like the ones at the Valoyi Trust face that reality everyday, for their whole lives. Children grow up without ever having more than a day or two worth of food in the house, much of which we Americans would barely consider food.
This is what fair trade changes. It gives disempowered women a voice. It gives them a sense of purpose and a reason to have dignity. It gives them real pay for their work, without numerous middlemen taking handfuls out for their own gain. Fair trade takes an item from an artisan, usually in the developing world, and delivers it directly to the consumer.
Enter the Fair Trade Friday Club:
If you haven’t figured it out, fair trade is near and dear to my heart. But living in rural Iowa, it can be hard to find fair trade products. You rural Americans understand, right? Anyways, when I given the opportunity to promote the Fair Trade Friday Club, I was all on board because they deliver a (random) box of fair trade items directly to my door, from all over the world. I received my first box in June, and friends, it was amazing.
I was engulfed in the sights and colors of Africa again, and my heart was overwhelmed with joy. I received the names of the women who made the items, and for some of them, their photos and stories. I can’t tell you how it felt to sit in my house in rural Iowa and read about the woman in Rwanda to sewed the gorgeous apron in my box.
The Fair Trade Friday Club isn’t just about gorgeous items that are delivered to your door. It’s about connecting you with the women who crafted them, and telling you their story. It’s about lifting up and blessing both the artisan and the consumer.
In my box, I received a journal from India, lip balm from Zambia, an apron from Rwanda, a necklace from Kenya, and an adorable little Fair Trade Friday bag. And each month, the club sends out a box filled with items from around the world. While you don’t know exactly what you’re receiving, you can be assured that it’s well worth the price and that the items will be gorgeous. And best of all, you’re supporting artisans who have faced great hardship and are working to lift their families out of poverty.
Fair Trade Friday has three options for signing up: a monthly box that is sent directly to your doorstep, a one-time box option (which is what I received in June), and the Earrings of the Month Club, which I plan to sign up for in August. I can’t recommend this organization enough. It’s not just spending a little more to get lovely handcrafted products.
It’s voting with your dollars and holding hands with women just like ourselves from around the world.
It’s bringing the world to your doorstep in a real and tangible way.
It’s impacting the trajectory of women and children living in incredible circumstances.
Sign up. You won’t be disappointed. And this is coming from a very frugal person who doesn’t spend money all willy-nilly. Sometimes there is a waiting list, but go ahead and sign up! The Fair Trade Friday Club is coming up on their one year anniversary, and there is a lot to celebrate! This idea that grew from Kristen Welch’s work with Mercy House in Kenya has grown into something that has impacted thousands of artisans AND consumers all over the world.
And you can always buy directly from the website, which is another fantastic way to support the Fair Trade Friday artisans.
Who knew you could save the world and look good doing it? (<–Fair Trade Friday words, not mine!)