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Crafts caressed by cultures

STINA SIEG
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

“If you want peace, work for justice,” said pastor Lauren Martin, standing in the basement of the Glenwood Mennonite Church.

Walking between tables, heavy with colorful handicrafts, he spoke of the connection between the mission of his church and that of Ten Thousand Villages. The non-profit organization, which buys and sells work produced in developing nations, has held an annual holiday fair at the church for 21 years. Around the country, work channeled through Ten Thousand Villages can purchased at hundreds of other such sales, as well as several retail stores.

The sales offer more than just a chance to buy a glittery Honduran candle or a pot holder made out of recycled newspaper from the Philippines. They’re about helping people who might be half way around the globe.



“We are just really tired of violence being used as the means to dissolve conflict,” Martin continued. “This is about justice. The artisans are poor. This is about justice for them. This is about them being able to provide for their families. They’re not buying a second home or a luxury vehicle. They’re buying medicine, lodging, the basics.”

The roots of the organization date back to 1946, according to Doug Dirks, who now works in public relations there. That’s when Edna Ruth Byler, a volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee, traveled to Puerto Rico and brought back several embroidered pieces made by local women. After selling some of the work to her friends, she realized that these craftswomen could vastly improve their economic situation if they only had a larger market. She soon became involved with other artisans from around the world. Known as the “Needlework Lady,” she sold their wares from the back of her car in the beginning. Eventually, her efforts grew from a nonprofit program of the MCC to the Ten Thousand Villages of today, which offers work from 60,000 people in 38 countries.



Dirks said he understands if consumers might worry about the impact that Ten Thousand Villages has on the cultures it touches. The group has no agenda, religious or otherwise, he said, except for wanting to help those in economic need.

After traveling to many of the locations where the goods are made, he feels the feedback he’s received has been overwhelmingly positive. The best way to protect their native heritage, many of the participants say, is to help them attain the funds to keep living. “You help us earn an income,” said Rink, quoting a theoretic craftsperson, “we’ll take care of preserving our culture.”

Dirks said he and his wife, Joanne Rank Dirk, first became involved after they saw the effect economic self-reliance could have on people. From 1982 to 1985, the pair volunteered with the MCC in an impoverished area of Bangladesh. During that time, they watched the women they worked with start to evolve and succeed after starting their own hand-made paper company. When he returned more than 20 years later, Dirks was reunited with Morium, who he had first known as a homeless woman, begging for money on the street with her children. She was now a chairwoman at the Shukpara paper company, and one of her daughters had just graduated from nursing school. Who was one of her biggest clients? Ten Thousand Villages.

“When you see that kind of thing,” Dirks said, “You say ‘hey, this is worth doing.'”


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