Mar 6, 2016

Trades of Hope

For much of my adult life, God has afforded me a love of words and a strong desire to communicate particularly through the written word. Sometimes He blesses me with the spoken word too, but those allowances seem to require special occasions. Nevertheless, God has given me a voice, and I have wanted to use it for a long time - I just didn't know how. Or for whom.

About four years ago, God opened my eyes to the issues of human trafficking in this country. I was appalled to learn that the city of Atlanta had become the national hub for child exploitation because we have the busiest international airport in the country. I learned alarming statistics to which I had been previously oblivious, but they shattered my heart into a million pieces. I shared with our Sunday School class at the time in an effort to make others aware, and then wrote this piece to share with my facebook friends.

Since then, a cloak has been pulled back which has revealed the severity of worldwide slavery of all kinds. Bonded slavery. Child slavery. Forced labor. Trafficking. Domestic servitude. It really is overwhelming.

Additionally, my heart has been massaged to the point of bruising over orphans all over the Russia, Ukraine, Haiti, and Africa. Many times (more than I ever imagined before) orphans are made not because both parents die, but because neither parent can feed their children. So they are forced to give them up for their children's survival. Imagine how difficult that would be to love your child, but know if you raise her yourself, she will starve to death.

"Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." James 1:27

So I was always left with the same thing I imagine a lot of people feel...what can I do about it?

In my quiet times with the Lord, I have been asking Him for a while to open my eyes now to what He wants me to do with this information. Surely He was not breaking my heart without reason. What was a homeschool stay-at-home mom (with kids still at home) supposed to do to end slavery and worldwide poverty?

Turns out He did have something in mind. Go figure.

Trades of Hope is an organization that was started in Florida about five years ago by two friends and their grown daughters. It is a missional company, meaning they are a for-profit company with a mission-minded heart. The founders' philosophy is that a sustainable business is a better long-term solution over charity. It's the "give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime" mentality. I happen to agree with that.

What this company has done is to make connections with multiple ministries that are already in place in 16 different countries around the world. These ministries are on-the-ground, full-time organizations that are committed to Fair Trade principles. Depending on the need in that particular area, they provide skills-training for a livelihood for women (and some men) who would otherwise be in the pit of extreme poverty and all the living hells that can come along with that. Many of these organizations also provide for education for the artisans' children, medical supplies, etc.

Fair trade organizations work to:

- pay a fair wage in the local context
- support safe, healthy, participatory workplaces
- provide 50% pre-payment for orders placed
- build long-term relationships
- provide ongoing education and training
- ensure environmental sustainability
- provide equal opportunities for all people, particularly the most 

- respect cultural identity
- build long-term, direct relationships

Trades of Hope has come alongside these organizations and provided a market for the artisans' handmade items. In a country like Haiti, with 90% unemployment, there are not many people able to buy a beautifully made beaded necklace or bracelet like this one:

See the painted, smooth beads? Those are made from the clay dirt in the Haitian mountains. This same clay is made into cookies and baked in the sun to feed their children when there is no real food to give them. The striped-looking beads? Those are recycled cereal boxes cut into strips with a paper cutter. Then they roll them up into beads, some are painted, glued, baked, and strung into beautiful jewelry.

Because of the devastating economic situation in Haiti, you can imagine there aren't many buyers for these beauties. So Trades of Hope came along and said, we'll order several thousand of those; here's half the money up front so your artisans can get their supplies. When the order is fulfilled, we'll pay the other half and have them shipped to the United States, where women buy jewelry EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. without even thinking twice about it.

Now, this kind of order is placed every single month because people in the United States are buying the product!

The lady that started this particular ministry I just described started out with just four women building beads and necklaces. Today, she has over 300 employees in Haiti, mostly women who were determined to keep their own children rather than handing them over to an orphanage. I heard her tell the story of one woman who followed her daily for weeks asking for a job because she didn't want to give up her daughter. There wasn't a place for her for a while, but eventually, Shelly was able to hire her! Trades of Hope and those selling and buying these gorgeous pieces of workmanship helped her business grow. And lives have been changed forever.

Have you ever thought about why some of the jewelry we buy is so cheap? I'm not talking about the gold and diamonds we buy; I'm talking about the everyday jewelry we get at the mall or a department store. It's because many of these things are made in countries and through businesses that employ sweatshops. You would be surprised if you did a search of all the companies and countries who use them. A sweatshop is defined as a factory that pays woefully low wages (think $2 per day), requires their employees to work ridiculous hours (I read about one sweatshop that allowed the women to leave every two days to spend a day at home) and provides unsafe work conditions.

Using companies that are committed to Fair Trade avoids perpetuating these issues and instead supports a living wage, hope for a future, and dignity for women who would otherwise never experience these things.

Trades of Hope helps to employ over 6,000 artisans in 16 different countries. Talk about making an impact!

By golly, I think this is something I can do that will actually, physically, monetarily, and spiritually attack these problems at their root. I can do something, by selling these products for her, that will afford her the opportunity to thrive rather than just try to survive.

I'm all about that.

If you are too, or just want more information, you can visit my website, read about the artisans, drool over their beautiful creations, and purchase them for yourself.

Talk about a win-win! You get to wear beautiful things, and she gets a fair wage she and her family can live on. Together, we can use our voice to speak for her. For all of them.