Fair Trade: Every Purchase Matters

This video beautifully portrays the difference fair trade creates around the world!

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Fair Trade vs. Charity

Image“When we take a charitable approach to poverty, we are often hurting the world rather than helping,” stated Gretchen Huijskens, fair trade company co-founder. In 2003, Huijskens co-founded Three Angels Children’s Relief in Haiti, a non-profit orphanage, school, and medical clinic. “We touched many lives in many ways,” says Huijskens, “but I started wondering how Haiti would change if we enabled parents to keep the babies they were bringing to us.” She was finding that a community’s physical, economical, and cultural health are severely altered when people attempt to use charity as poverty’s solution. Micro-financing and sustainable business was heavy on her heart when Haiti’s earthquake in January 2010 shook up Three Angel Children’s Relief’s plans. “The earthquake gave us a clean slate after all of our orphans found homes in America just days after the disaster,” Huijskens recalled. She took that clean slate as her opportunity to pursue a long-term, sustainable solution to the poverty and founded fair trade company, Trades of Hope.

IMG_9142“Charity has its place. For example, orphanages are necessary, but only for parentless orphans. Orphanages are not for children whose parents cannot afford to keep them. Many make the mistake of charitably giving when we often do not know what would be best to give. Rice is an example of this,” said Huijskens.

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A long time ago, sweet potatoes were a staple in Haitian’s diets. A sweet potato nourishes the body and can help one survive impoverished situations. However, America donated tons and tons of rice to Haiti as a way to “help.” Therefore, now rice is a staple of Haitian’s diets, a grain that does not nourish the body so the population is not surviving; but this food is free. Free food, however, puts those who sell sweet potatoes or rice out of business because there is no longer a market. Not only did this “charitable” American donation disrupt the country’s overall health, but dismantled it economically. This is only one way that helping has in fact hurt.

IMG_9072Crocks is known to have donated tons and tons of shoes to places of natural disasters. What Crocks did not realize is that only a few days after the natural disaster, the shoe cobblers are back out on the street trying to make money for food or medical care for their families. Unfortunately, because there are free shoes available to those in the market for some, the shoe cobblers are unable to take care of their basic, or now urgent, needs.

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“Who would buy something when they could get it for free? No one in American or Africa would do that,” Huijskens observed. What is left a week after said natural disaster? A community still physically and financially broken with thousands of shoes littering a disaster scene. “It is short sighted to authoritatively decide what a country or community needs after a tragedy without taking time to ask and truly heal the issue,” she said.

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“We litter their land and their livelihood,” Huijskens stated in reference to Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, “I would not want a stranger giving my children a box of trinkets and toothbrushes.” In December without parental approval,Samaritan’s Purse annually sends children around the world shoe boxes of tiny toys and utensils, all the while pushing our materialistic view of Christmas on cultures very different from ours. Who decided children in South American could not possibly be happy without receiving disposable gifts on Christmas day?

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All of the time, money, and energy used to ship these shoe boxes around the world could be used to create sustainable income in the developing world. Huijskens said, “How does giving a child a Barbie doll on Christmas compare to giving his or her parent a job every day of the year? Maybe by next Christmas, their parents can buy their family’s own Christmas gifts.” Often people want to “help” in an immediate way (like sending gifts) so that they can see how they are helping and feel accomplished. But donating to chase a good feeling is not changing lives. Taking the time to find out what someone truly needs and being patient to see the fruits of an investment is what transforms lives, communities, and the world.

IMG_9008Fair trade companies and businesses create a market place for entrepreneurial artisans in poverty stricken countries around the world to sell their products. When these fair trade companies pay them for their work, artisans can then provide for their family’s needs, save money, and buy more materials for their business. These artisans are more than capable. They do not need us to be their parents, change their diets, steal their customers, or manipulate their cultures. The dignified, sustainable cycle of earning an income is the single successful method to heal poverty’s wounds and welcome hope for the future.

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Christella: The Story of a Fair Trade Artisan

IMG_6011“When I was 16 years-old I had to bring my first baby to an orphanage.” said Christella, a woman born into the heaviness of Haiti. “I had no job and no house and could not take care of him.”  Not only did she lack shelter and resources, but her body was too malnourished to feed and nurture her newborn.  “I had heard of an orphanage on the other side of town,” she remembered, “so I walked all day to bring my child there.”

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Today, years later, when she tells her story, she has a glimmer of hope in her eyes because of the promising future she gained when she was hired to create fair trade products.  “The orphanage I brought my child to told me about a job making jewelry,” Christella explained, “and now I roll beads that will be turned into jewelry.”  Because of this job, she can provide for and educate her two children (whom she did not need to give up for adoption!), live in her own house, earn a sustainable income, and create the future she wants for herself.

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“I was ashamed and sad to bring my son to the orphanage when I was 16,” Christella reflected.  After her first son, Christella gave birth to twins, a son and a daughter who are now three years-old.  This time, she can keep her children, take care of them, and watch them grow up — a right every mother should be able to enjoy.  Her sustainable job not only changes her life, but it touch the lives of her children and her children’s children. It is a long-term solution that ends the struggles of her past and opens doors for her generations to come. Even in Haiti, sending children to school is very expensive, therefore she is very excited to send her twins to school soon with the money she has been able to save up upon opening her very own savings account.

247Also with her savings account, Christella bought her own house.  Her home is not bigger than an middle class American bathroom, but she smiles when sharing about how she painted her house and hung decorations inside on the walls. In addition, her house holds the first bed in which she has ever slept, where she tucks in her children every night after they eat dinner.

230Health insurance was another first for Christella.  “Because of my job, my children and I will always be able to see the doctor when we get sick. I was the first person in my village and the first generation in my family to get health insurance,” she said. This would not have been possible in such an impoverished country like Haiti without the sustainability of fair trade. These life-changing, future-transforming opportunities are not a possibility through charity hand-outs.

IMG_9306“I am very thankful for my job because I want to be financially independent for my family,” Christella said.  Many people in America do not realize the shame some feel when accepting donations from non-profit organizations. Though their circumstances are different than ours, they are just like us, harboring the same desires to provide for a family, feel safe, and feel purposeful. They do not want charity. They want an opportunity to make their ambitions a reality. Through fair trade, artisans like her can earn their own income indefinitely and with dignity!  For the first time in her life, Christella now feels respected by those in her village and in her community.

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This sense of community is new to Christella. “Before my job, I had no friends,” she explained. But now she has co-workers to laugh with her, encourage her, celebrate with her, and mourn with her. Christella shared that one morning, a co-worker walked into work after being physically abused by her ex-husband. All of her co-workers, including Christella, rallied around her passionately willing to offer help and support. “We can all relate to where each other have been, and we share the motivation to work for a better future,” said Christella.

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One day, I would like to design the jewelry I make the beads for,” Christella dreams. She has many dreams, dreams of raising educated, ambitious children, working toward promotions at work, bettering her community, and maybe even purchasing a passport. She shares, “My life and future is completely different now that I have this job.”

IMG_8380That glimmer of hope never leaves Christella’s eyes. The hope remains because, with sustainable business and fair trade, opportunity always remains. There is no more worrying where the next meal is coming from. There is no more worrying about what will happen if illness arises. There is no more worrying about shelter, education, or what the future will hold. With fair trade those in impoverished situations can create their own future.249