“I treat these people as I’d want to be treated”

Each year, Ten Thousand Villages USA organizes a gathering of staff, board members and volunteers at Nationals Workshop in Akron, PA. This year’s badges were etched on recycle motherboards (above).

This past week, Kitty and three board members attended on our behalves. Below is a reflection from one of our board members, Jo Krouse, who attended a session with Albert Espin Lopez, a visiting artist from Quito, Ecuador, and a owner of a workshop employing 50 artisans.

Reflections from the 2007 Annual Workshop:

Tagnua Tagua nut is very hard–it will dull your knife or carving tool. It is also scattered throughout remote forests in marginally accessible areas. There is a long, involved, coordinated process for collecting the nuts, drying, soaking, drying, peeling off the husks, drying, soaking in dye, drying (each step measured in days) before carving begins. It takes active organizing to get all this focused and to a product center.

Senor Lopez owns a workshop which is a member of Camari, our artisan partner. His goal is that 50 people have steady work with 12 month’s pay (their working season is 10 months) and that they can send their children to school. He took a leap of faith, a risk of investment, to organize and launch this enterprise. He risked his own children’s dinner and future to invest in and launch his enterprise. I took the children’s dinner as a metaphor for the kind of risk he took.

The key moment for me was the question, “Do you pay the people you hire or do business with by fair wage standards?”

There was a moment of confusion / interaction while he understood, by way of the interpreter, what the question was.

Then he answered, “Of course. I treat these people – all people – as I would want to be treated.”

We of the developed world did not teach him the fair trade concept. He had skills, determination, brains, and values that made him my equal by any standard. I had a moment of humility that shattered my image of the first world superiority. Impoverished countries have all the same values, hopes, dreams, vision, integrity as people anywhere. Perhaps one thing that differentiates the first from the Third World is greed.

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