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Roberta Taylor, Edmonton Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages is the oldest and largest Fair Trade organization in North America, selling artisan-crafted personal accessories, home decor and gift items from around the globe. 

Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit program of Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCC), the relief and development agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in North America. Ten Thousand Villages has its roots in the work begun by Edna Ruth Byler in 1946.

Ten Thousand Villages is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), a coalition of handicraft and agricultural producer organizations, and Fair Trade organizations from both the North and the South.

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Ten Thousand Villages Volunteers Give Gift of Time That Keeps Giving

Monday April 11 , 2016

Not long ago, a customer walked into the Ten Thousand Villages store in Steinbach, Man. and stopped in front of a painted wooden wall hanging crafted in the shape of the word “DREAM.” As she considered buying it, Virginia Fast, a 16-year veteran store volunteer, approached her to answer questions about the piece handcrafted and painted in El Salvador.  “I gave one of those to my daughter because I want her to dream,” she told the woman, who revealed she also wanted it for her own daughter’s room. Leaving the store carrying her new purchase, the woman turned to Virginia. “You’re a good sales lady,” she told her. “But also an angel.”

Virginia is only one of the approximately 3,000 Canadians who volunteer their time, expertise and energy to Ten Thousand Villages, the largest and oldest fair trade organization in North America. While known for its fair wages, it has also helped create safe working conditions for artisans and producers and communities where all families thrive. Whether they’re creating stunning pottery from local river clay in Peru or fashioning discarded bullet shells into necklaces in Cambodia, international artisans feel the respect and dignity that come from earning fair value for their work.

Now all volunteers across Canada are earning their kudos during National Volunteer Week, which takes place April 10-16 this year. It’s a time to recognize, celebrate and thank volunteers. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians volunteer an average of 154 hours a year – or close to an astounding 2 billion hours in total.  “Ten Thousand Villages is supported by volunteers across Canada who help create opportunities for makers in some of the poorest regions around the world,” says Ryan Jacobs, chief executive officer for Ten Thousand Villages. “We’re humbled and inspired that so many generous people of all ages and backgrounds give of their time and talents to help us carry out our mission.

Some of those talents are surprising. At the Edmonton store a few years ago, one long-time volunteer, an elderly woman, arrived to help unload, move and pile Bunyaad Oriental rugs that had just arrived that day. Roberta, the store manager was concerned the rugs would be too heavy and the work too demanding. Instead of throwing in the towel, however, the senior joined forces with a teen boy. “Together they tackled the largest pile of rugs, laughing and teasing the entire time,” says Roberta. “The lesson was clear: don’t judge a volunteer by her age!”

For those wanting to volunteer at a Ten Thousand Villages store or festival sale, but worry they don’t have the time, it’s important to know that most volunteers work only one shift a week. Others offer other talents. Last year a lawyer joined the volunteer board in Edmonton to give her legal perspective. Contact your local store and see if positions are available or there are other roles that need to be filled.

About Ten Thousand Villages

As the oldest and largest fair trade organization in North America, Ten Thousand Villages has been delighting consumers with handcrafted, high quality products created by makers around the world since 1946.

Ten Thousand Villages began when Edna Ruth Byler visited with volunteers in Puerto Rico who were teaching sewing classes in an effort to help improve the lives of women living in poverty. Believing in both the products and their mission, she purchased several pieces to bring home to sell to friends and family. And with that, a movement began.

Today, Ten Thousand Villages purchases products from more than 80 different artisan groups in 29 countries, giving 20,000 global makers the hope, dignity, joy and life requirements that come from earning a decent living. Producing gifts that give and give again, their work consists of high quality, on-trend, one-of-a-kind pieces for the home, as well as unique handmade jewellery, fair trade food, beverages and more.

The products found in Ten Thousand Villages stores and online represent the distinct communities and people around the world who handcraft them. Each and every item is created by hand, and with love, according to fair and sustainable practices. This results in products that are not only beautiful, but that also create opportunities for makers who are economically disadvantaged or marginalized because of their circumstances. Shopping at Ten Thousand Villages provides these makers with independence, new skills and important health and social services.