Ten Thousand Villages – A Fair Trade Shop and Intercultural Training Resources

This past week, I have been on vacation in Raleigh, North Carolina.  My significant other, Tony, was presenting at a conference there and we took the opportunity to get some rest and relaxation despite his work schedule. And what a fabulous city we discovered!  The downtown is full of charming little restaurants, pubs and shops as well as museums. The warehouse district is rapidly developing and there is a very active arts scene. There are a wealth of colleges and universities in the area including University of North Carolina, Duke University, Peace College and Meredith College. Needless to say, it has been a terrific get away!

While in Raleigh, we discovered a delightful shop with an authentic purpose.  Ten Thousand Villages is a fair trade home décor, personal accessories and gift store that works with artisans from around the world. The not-for-profit was started by Edna Ruth Byler, a volunteer for Mennonite Central Committee. She had visited Puerto Rico and discovered a group of women sewing exquisite textiles – this inspired her to seek out artisans in other developing regions of the world who were crafting art by hand. As a founding member of the World Trade Organization and a longstanding member of the Fair Trade Federation, Ten Thousand Villages has a solid history of bringing hand crafted art to consumers in North America and Canada, working with more than 130 artisan groups in more than 38 countries.

The team in Raleigh told me that the store there only has 4 paid employees.  The rest of the staff are volunteers who simply believe in the mission of the shop.  Every item that is purchased there helps to provide vital and fair income to artisans and their families from developing countries.   The shop works with the same artisans to develop a long -term relationship and pays the artist up to 50% up front to help cover their costs.

One of my favorite discoveries at Ten Thousand Villages was a children’s book entitled “Throw Your Tooth on the Roof:  Tooth Traditions from Around the World” by Selby B. Beeler. I picked this book up because my two adorable nieces are both rapidly losing their baby teeth and whenever I see them they either ask me to “wiggle this tooth” or to “look at the hole in my mouth!” I thought this would be a great gift for them – and as I flipped through the book I learned about the differences in how children across cultures are taught to discard of their “baby teeth.” For example, Russian children are told to put the tooth in a mouse hole in the ground, while children in Thailand are instructed to throw their lower teeth on the roof and put the upper teeth under their beds or on the ground.  One of the most interesting stories is from Jamaica, where a child explains, “At night, after my tooth falls out, the Rolling Calf comes rattling chains to take me and my tooth away. I put my tooth in a tin can and shake it hard. The noise keeps the Rolling Calf away.”  In the US, my nieces put each tooth under their pillows and the “Tooth Fairy” takes it away and leaves money.

This book is a great new additional resource for cultural training for children;  I’ll be able to create a fun and interactive game where young children can guess what country uses a mouse hole to collect the tooth, which have a “Tooth Fairy”, and which require throwing the tooth over a shoulder, burying it in the ground or dropping it into a glass of water!

If you have the opportunity to support the mission of Ten Thousand Villages, please do.  I will be seeking out their shop the next time I have a gift to purchase, but also when I need to adjust one of my training programs to include a new tool –  one that will include a beautiful piece of hand crafted art work or an educational and colorful book that can spur on dialogue about a country and its culture.

Musical instruments from various African nations.
Handcrafted bracelets at Ten Thousand Villages.