OpEd | Your shopping dollars can save a village


When Global Village reopens, it will be selling face masks made by Guatemalan artisans who have lost many other sources of income. (SUPPLIED IMAGE)


Getting tired of wearing a mask? Your workplace is shut down? Waiting for Food Stamps? It’s serious, even if you or loved ones don’t get COVID-19.

Consider the families at the other end of the supply chain. Global Village in Peoria Heights recently got an urgent request from the Indiana warehouse of Grain of Rice Project in Nairobi, Kenya, “Please pray for an end to water shortages in the Kibera slum of Nairobi. People are getting up at 4 a.m. to wait in line and search for water.”

People who manage to sew beautiful headbands, design thought-provoking bookmarks and craft delightful jewelry are struggling with dehydration. The new school building under construction may be delayed. The children who will attend school there do not have any school at present.

From Bethlehem in Palestine come stories of Olive Wood carvers who are currently unemployed. One workshop where 10 highly-skilled carvers supported their families has been closed since early spring as citizens are required to stay at home. They are hoping an importer in Ft. Wayne can find a retail outlet for some of their work.

The Ft. Wayne importer also buys and roasts high-quality Fair Trade coffee from rural farm cooperatives in remote mountain locations throughout the world. This spring, for the first time in over 40 years, he can’t buy new-crop beans from all of his usual cooperatives because he hasn’t emptied enough of his warehouse space. The farmers who are fortunate enough to sell beans this year will probably need to sell most of their crops to the highest bidder, almost certainly for a price below their cost of production. Their children will eat less, go to school less, possibly move to cities to look for work rather than stay on the farm.

Refugees in crowded tent cities have nowhere to work if they did have skills or materials. Several countries, including the United States, have closed their borders to refugees. Their immediate needs are soap, towels and masks.

A women’s sewing cooperative in a Guatemala City slum –– democratically managed and enhanced by a medical clinic, soymilk production and a Montessori school for children of workers –– recently contacted its retail partners in North America for help making payroll.

It’s an old story, when the First World sneezes, the Third World gets pneumonia.

Fair Trade producers have been nimble in adjusting to new realities. Lucia’s, a Guatemalan clothing producer, is now selling embroidered and woven masks for adults and children. Quilling Company, maker of elegant quilled-paper greeting cards, also offers masks.

Companies that have been making high-end clothing from organic cotton, low-waste blended fabrics with new names and long-term wearability hope that the market for “slow fashion” will continue to grow as the world finds its New Normal.

Slow fashion emphasizes long-term quality as opposed to clothing that is discarded after a season and ends up in resale stores. It was recently reported that 80% of Goodwill’s clothing is not sold and goes to landfills, either in the United States or in Third-world countries.

Most Fair Trade clothing, accessories, art, housewares and gifts are sold through small businesses that were closed to protect us from COVID-19 but are now reopening. Online sales are available. Some Fair Trade coffees, teas and chocolates are also available in larger grocery stores. Where consumers spend their dollars — no matter how many they have to spend — will determine which communities and which families recover from the pandemic.

The few big-box stores called “essential” during the past few months will no longer be the only choice. Consumers will be able to choose between favorite local or corporate restaurants, gift shops, shoe stores and barbers/hairdressers. They will also decide who survives –– online businesses or local, sales tax-paying retail stores.

Global Village, a fair-trade store run by volunteers, is located at 1308 E. Seiberling Ave., Peoria Heights.


When Global Village reopens, it will be selling face masks made by Guatemalan artisans who have lost many other sources of income. (SUPPLIED IMAGE)

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