Dancing with the Masai in Kenya


Friday, May 14, 2010

Crossing Borders...literally.

I haven't always been involved with small business or fair trade. As a matter of fact, 10 years ago, I barely knew what the words fair trade meant. This is a brief story of how I got started in fair trade and why it is so important for the sustainability of our planet today.

 Until 1982, I had done very little traveling outside my own country. I was young and growing up in a house in Northern California with liberal parents and an open mind. As a little girl, I'd always been interested in exploring the world and its people. I used to devour adventure stories and dream about being a pirate (haha!) so I could sail away and have a big adventure. 

In 1982 I got married at the young age of 22 and my parents sent us to Mexico for our honeymoon. After two fun filled weeks on the beaches and shopping in the markets, I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have been fortunate enough to have traveled, or at the very least, set foot on every continent on Earth except Antarctica. I have had fantastic journeys and embraced the culture and beauty of every single place I've visited. 

With a worldly and cultural awareness comes the understanding that we are all inter-connected. As human beings sharing the same planet, the same resources, breathing the same air, looking at the same stars, feeling the same feelings of joy, sadness, fear and love. We really are a lot more alike than we are different. It's important to see. In understanding this, I started looking at human rights more closely. 

I believe that every human on Earth has the right to food, clean water, health care, education and the pursuit of happiness. I began to notice that in the less developed countries I began to love and visit often, this usually wasn't the case. The beautiful items I was purchasing were being sold at expensive stores, and massed produces by corporations in third-world countries without regulations for the producers. 

The corporate controlled retailers were making lots of money off the blood, sweat and tears of the artisans and farmers. Sweatshops are more common than not for clothing producers. Coffee farmers are paid less than it takes to actually grow the coffee. Children go hungry. They don't get proper educations. Mothers die giving birth. Malaria, AIDS and other diseases that are preventable are rampant. Often there is no fresh water. The list goes on and on.

What so many people in privileged countries like my own (the U.S.) don't realize, is that the answer to this problem lies in conscious consumerism. If we use our conscience when we shop, and take the time to learn about Fair Trade practices, we can support them. 

Fair Trade is now mainstream enough that we can buy nearly everything we need from fair trade retailers. From food like bananas and coffee, chocolate and even wine, to clothing, hand bags, shoes, jewelry, furniture and most household items, you can choose to buy fair trade.Don't support companies like Wal-Mart or Nike who overlook the concerns of child labor, slave labor or any unfair labor wages and practices. 

I began working as the Northern California wholesale rep just over a year ago for Acholi Beads.This company was started only a couple of years ago in Uganda by an American who partnered with these beautiful women of the Acholi tribe in Uganda. The Acholi people are displaced war victims, barely able to survive by breaking rocks in a quarry under dangerous conditions, barely making $1 per day. Now they have formed a co-op and we are selling their beads all over America. The jewelry they make is hand made from recycled paper. The Acholi people are now building new homes, investing their money in other businesses, sending their children to school, providing health care, fresh food and water for their families. The story's success has inspired me to do more. 

I started Crossing Borders Fair Trade in December of 2009 and only sell online and in festivals and craft fairs. I am a fair trade activist and own the Crossing Borders Fair Trade website to educate and inspire people. This is another journey in my life, and one that I'm sure will take me many places...physically and spiritually.

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