International artists offer wares at store

The aroma of the store is set off by warm jasmine, exotic teas and ancient wood.

The arrangement of the blue colors from the Far East to the warm brown colors of the Sub-Saharan Africa, flow harmoniously from one end of the store to the other.

Customers can hear the stories of the artists from 38 different countries speak about their dreams, their hopes for stability and their gratefulness to be a part of Ten Thousand Villages.

Founded in 1946 by missionary Edna Ruth Byler, Ten Thousand Villages serves as a network of more than 156 retail outlets throughout the United States that sell products from artists in underdeveloped countries.

According to Pat Van Durme, assistant manager for the three-year-old Tallahassee store, the founder was in a Peruvian village and saw women selling their handmade work on the side of the road.

“Essentially, she believed that she could help these women by taking their products to America to sell for a higher price,” Van Durme said.

Since then, it has become one of the world’s largest fair trade organizations and a founding member of the International Fair Trade Association.

Though the name may suggest that Ten Thousand Villages are a part of this nonprofit, the inspiration came from a quote by Mahatma Gandhi “…India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages…we have hardly ever paused to inquire if these folks get sufficient to eat and clothe themselves with.”

Van Durme believes the values that the stores stands for keeps bringing customers back.
“When customers come in here to buy a gift, it’s a gift that gives back twice,” Van Durme said. “People shop here deliberately.”

But not only do customers deliberately shop there, it is a volunteer haven.

The Tallahassee store has about 40 volunteers who perform most of the store’s tasks from cashiering to stocking the products. 

“The store has two paid positions, manager and assistant manager, and the volunteers literally take care of everything else,” Van Durme said.

Barbara Wagener, a retired speech pathologist from Washington D.C., has been volunteering in the store for three months.

“I have never volunteered for anything in my life before but a volunteer recruited me to check it out,” Wagener said.  “When I found out about how they were involved with fair trade, I jumped in because I have been to parts of Africa where organizations like this can really help out the communities.”

Van Durme said they are always open to more volunteers because they are “wonderful and they want to be here.”

The store also sells soup and cookie products from the Women’s Bean Project, a U.S. based organization that helps disadvantaged women get back on their feet.

Wagener and Van Durme agree that people enjoy shopping at the store because they know the money is going back to the right place.

“My experience is that the younger generation is becoming more aware and shopping consciously,” Van Durme said.

Laura, Niggel, 20, a second year communications student at Florida State University, is one of the youngest volunteers at Ten Thousand Villages.

What started off as a place for her to walk around became a place where she could volunteer.

“I love the store. Volunteering here gives me an excuse to be here,” laughed Niggel.

With economic news looking bleaker every day, Ten Thousand Villages gives anyone a reason to celebrate the economic triumphs of artists from the Far East to the remote villages of Sub-Saharan Africa.