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June 22, 2011 / Green America

Crafting Change: Our Fair Trade Tour

posted by Fair Trade coordinator, Elizabeth O’Connell

The Crafting Change crew

On May 10th 2011, I embarked on a 16-day adventure that would take me from San Francisco all the way up to Seattle and over to Spokane.  No, this was not a vacation in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, but an educational speaking tour called “Crafting Change: A Fair Trade Tour”.

I was joined by Sonia Anahue Uscamate, a Fair Trade jewelry maker from Peru, and Carrie Hawthorne, the executive director of Partners for Just Trade, a Fair Trade organization here in the US that imports Fair Trade artisan goods from Peru.

The goal of this tour was to connect American consumers with producers from around the world. These relationships are at the heart of Fair Trade.  In spite of having never visited the US before, not speaking English, and having to travel here on her own, Sonia graciously agreed to join us for almost three weeks and share her story more than twenty times.  Being able to hear Sonia’s story in her own words, from her own mouth is extremely powerful, and confirms that Fair Trade truly can be a means for sustainable economic development around the world.

Our tour kicked off in Northern California, where we had events in San Francisco (at Mercy High School and at Global Exchange), in the South Bay (at eBay World of Good and the Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church), and in Berkeley (at The Berkeley School, The HUB, and the Global Exchange store).  It was chilly in Northern California, but luckily we d lots of Fair Trade coffee and tea from Equal Exchange to stay warm.  We had the great pleasure of celebrating World Fair Trade Day on May 15th in Santa Rosa at an event that was co-organized by Baksheesh and the other Fair Trade retail stores of Sonoma County.

Getting out of the city and into the countryside of Sonoma was very special for Sonia. She repeatedly commented on how many beautiful “arboles”, or trees, there were. She said that seeing all the trees and green helped her to reflect on what she can do back in Peru to influence people to not cut down the trees, and care more about nature.  She also said that the countryside provided her with inspiration for her work.

After five fun-filled and jam-packed days in California, we headed up to Oregon. In Eugene we had the pleasure of being interviewed by KLCC Radio, an NPR affiliate, and got to take a tour of the Café Mam Coffee Roaster.  Making stops like this along the tour was interesting to Sonia because she had not realized before that there were other groups like hers, all around the world, working in Fair Trade.  What was especially interesting to Sonia about the roaster was that it introduced  her to an entirely different side of Fair Trade.  Prior to our visit, she was well aware of how her group and some of the other artisan groups in Peru operate, but she was new to the world of commodities. Our guides at Café Mam did a great job of explaining how the Fair Trade model works when applied to agricultural products, like coffee.

In Portland, we presented at Banyan Tree, the Fair Trade store, and at the First Unitarian Church.  We also visited a jewelry store downtown that bought a number of Sonia’s pieces to sell! And we had some fun at the local Peruvian restaurant, Andina. It was delicious!

Our time in Oregon was too short, and after just two days we headed up to Washington. We presented at Traditions, the Fair Trade store in Olympia, and at the Presbyterian Church in Tacoma. We also got to spend some time exploring beautiful Gig Harbor, and visited a school there, where Sonia was able to share her story with kindergarteners.

May 21st and 22nd were spent at the Seattle Green Festival, where thousands of folks came together to learn about environmental sustainability and social justice, see inspiring speakers, and support green businesses.

After the Green Festival we headed east for the last leg of the tour, in Spokane.  The drive from western to eastern Washington was pretty incredible!  In just five hours we went from being on the harbor, to seeing snow in the mountains, then through major cannons, and finally expansive farmland.  We were all surprised by the variety.  Sonia said the mountains reminded her of her drive to Cuzco, which is at a whopping 12,000 feet in elevation, except that there are much more trees here than in Peru!

Spokane was ready for us and we were excited to be there!  We were even featured in the local newspaper.  More than 40  people joined us for our talk at the First Presbyterian Church, the same church that hosts the annual (and very successful) Fair Trade Jubilee sale.  We also presented at Kizuri, the Fair Trade store in downtown Spokane and had the opportunity to tour the warehouse of longtime Fair Trade business, Ganesh Himal.  Our time in Spokane was very special and I was so impressed with how active and connected the Fair Trade community is there.  I highly recommend that anyone making a trip up to the Pacific Northwest make time for a stop in Spokane.

Our final stop on the tour was in the little Bavarian town of Leavenworth, WA.  Here we had the great privilege of presenting to over 75 students at the High School and encouraged them to start a Fair Trade School campaign.

The drive back west to the Seattle airport was bittersweet. After 16 days together, we’d all be saying goodbye and Sonia would be heading back to Peru. However, we all felt like the tour had been a success.  The connections we had made were so powerful. This tour gave Americans the chance to hear firsthand the impact that Fair Trade is making on the ground in other countries.  Equally important, this tour gave Sonia the opportunity to see the faces on the other end of the supply chain, the people that ultimately purchase the jewelry she makes.

This transparent and direct relationship is what makes Fair Trade unique, and what makes it work.  Trade in our globalized world has become extremely de-humanized. We are accustomed to having access to whatever we at the click of a mouse. What is lost in this sort of relationship is the human faces at the start of the supply chain and throughout.  Whether its jewelry, chocolate, clothing, sneakers, or electronics, everything we buy has been worked on by a person somewhere. What varies is the treatment of these workers.

Sonia’s story is just one of the many stories of a producer who has been able to build a life for herself because of her hard work and the opportunities that Fair Trade provides.  Fair Trade commits to advance payment, which allowed Sonia and the other members of Munay Rumi to purchase their raw materials for large orders without going in to debt.  The training and development programs taught her accounting skills and allowed her group to become self-sufficient at managing their business.  Also, because she earns more, Sonia is able to live on her own, save money, and pay for healthcare for herself and her mother. Even though her home in the mountains is 27 hours away from where she lives in Lima, she is able to take time off and visit her family, and has been able to purchase cellphones for herself and mother so they can stay in touch.

Every time I heard Sonia tell her story I got goosebumps – she is an incredible woman.  On tour, she shared that her goal is to grow their group even more, so that more people in Peru will have the same opportunity that she has had.  However, she stressed that they have to grow smart. Not everyone is willing to work the way they do, so it’s important that they find people with the same work ethic and those who value transparency and equality as much as they do.

Fair Trade aims to put the human face back in to trade.  It detangles complicated international supply chains, so that we can choose to purchase products responsibly and know that more of the money we spend is making its way back to the producers, so that they can build lives of dignity and independence.

Click here to watch the presentation we gave at eBay online!

To see more pictures of “Crafting Change: A Fair Trade Tour” check out our Flickr Photostream.

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