Make Your Gift Count

December 9-15, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 43
Make Your Gift Count
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Looking for a unique gift for that hard-to-buy for relative or friend? How about Kisii Stone candleholders from Kenya, handmade table linens from the Philippines, Bangladesh, India or Guatemala or a musical rain stick from Chile? Other items available locally are Haitian stone sculptures, baskets made by Sudanese refugees, jewelry, toys or puzzles from Sri Lanka, or hand painted pins made by Russian orphans. These are just a few examples of fair trade items for sale that will not only provide unique and distinctive gifts but also promote social justice and provide a sustainable means of income for artisans around the world who might otherwise not have employment.

At the Spiritual Renewal Center of the Syracuse Diocese located at 1118 Court St. in Syracuse, volunteer gift shop manager Judy Carr said that the fair trade gifts sold at the shop provide skills training, disaster relief, education, health care, housing and many other critical services to Third World countries. They also raise the awareness of consumers on social justice issues.

Carr purchases many of the items sold at the gift shop from SERRV International –– a nonprofit alternative trade and development organization. The other major supplier of international gifts is Ten Thousand Villages –– one of the largest alternative trading organizations in the world, which provides fair income to Third World people by selling their handcrafts and telling their stories in North America. Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit program of the Mennonite Central Committee, the relief and development agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches in North America. Carr said that she receives goods from more than 32 countries including those in South America, Asia and Africa. Most of the gifts sold at the Spiritual Renewal Center directly benefit the artists or growers providing them, with 35 percent of the profits donated to the center.

In addition to volunteering her time to manage the gift shop, Carr is in the process of developing a learning module about free trade and Third World countries to present to high school students, confirmation candidates and justice committees. She will also offer students the opportunity to sell Third World products. “The action part of their experience will be to host an outside sale of crafts and goods as they learn about supporting Third World countries,” said Carr. “Perhaps it will make them conscious of their buying practices and question who made the product they are purchasing.” Carr has ordered a large quantity of gifts appropriate for purchase by all age groups. “The items are reasonably priced,” said Carr. “I encourage people to bring their kids in to shop. It’s a great place for them to buy a gift for mom or dad.” The Spiritual Renewal Center gift shop is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday evenings until 8 p.m. During the month of December, it will be opened the first three Saturdays from10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Maurine McTyre-Watts, owner of Fair World Marketplace on the corner of Erie Boulevard and East Genesee Street in DeWitt, opened her fair trade shop seven weeks ago in order to address world hunger. “I’ve always been interested in poverty and hunger and believe this is a way to have an impact on that,” she said. McTyre-Watts started selling fair trade items at church and it was so wonderfully received, she became increasingly interested in learning more. “I’ve traveled and lived overseas,” said McTyre-Watts. She has also visited the Middle East, Egypt, South and Central America. “I saw first-hand the poverty in which people live. People who live in poverty have no choices.”

Fair trade is a set of international standards that provides partnerships with a co-op and a group of artisans that ensures them an ongoing income, explained McTyre-Watts. “The artisans receive the money up front to help them purchase supplies and are paid a higher wage than they would be if they weren’t a part of a co-op. A greater percentage of the retail price goes back to them.” McTyre-Watts said that it was important to note that the products made or grown do not involve child labor. “Women and men alike receive equal pay for equal work.” Because Co-op artisans are paid part of their wages before the product is produced, their sustainable income allows them to reinvest some of their wages into building schools, digging wells, and providing medical care in the communities in which they live. “Coffee and cocoa growers are paid before the harvest so they are receiving an income even if they have a bad year,” said McTyre-Watts. For example, Guatemalan coffee growers who sell their coffee locally receive about 33 cents per pound. Co-op growers who sell their coffee to the co-op earn about 80 cents per pound, receiving 40 cents per pound immediately and the other 40 cents per pound after the importer received the order.

McTyre-Watts said most of the importers are nonprofit organizations. The International Fair Trade Association monitors retailers who advertise fair trade items. “They monitor how you purchase, where you purchase from and how you trade with those groups,” said McTyre-Watts. She warned that anyone who carries just one fair trade item can advertise as a fair trade marketer. However, a good rule of thumb is to look for the international trade label –– especially on coffees, teas and cocoa products. While McTyer-Watts assists customers with their purchases, she also takes the opportunity to educate them on fair trade artisans and social issues. Whether showing off onyx or soapstone chess sets from places such as Pakistan, India or Kenya, or measuring coffee from fair trade coffee growers, McTyre-Watts uses each sale as a learning experience for her customers. “A lot of co-ops are run by women,” said McTyre-Watts. “These baskets were made my Sudanese refugees in Uganda’s refugee camps.” The gift shop is a treasure trove of unique items that will surely be received with more enthusiasm than a tie or a fruitcake.

But for those customers who are looking for cakes, chocolates, coffee or Russian hand carved and painted nesting dolls, Around the World Gifts in Shoppingtown Mall in DeWitt is the place to go. Owner Kevin Dabit has the largest selection of Russian nesting dolls outside of New York City. He also has Irish Christmas cakes, Swedish coffee rolls, plum pudding from England, pure Swiss chocolate cocoa drink mix and teas from Ireland, Poland, England, Germany and other countries. The shop is more than just a place to purchase beautiful handcrafts and gourmet food items; it is a friendly, social place where the coffee is always ready. Dabit said that many of his customers followed him from his old location in the Galleries in downtown Syracuse to his new location. He also welcomes many new customers. “Business is good,” said Dabit. “Customers come in to chat and unload their burdens.”

Anyone needing a lesson in chocolate only has to inquire and Dabit’s knowledge on the subject is quickly brought forth. “Most American chocolate only has about 17 percent cocoa beans in it. Did you know that?” Dabit asked. “Did you know that Godiva Chocolate is owned by Campbell’s Soup Company?” Dabit whirls from display to display, breaking open packages of chocolate to use as teachable tools. “Taste this,” he commands. “See how smooth that is? International chocolates are made with a minimum of 35 percent cocoa beans.” The store offers chocolate from countries all over the world. It also sells hand made and originally designed Ghyslain Chocolate by a French chocolatier from Indiana. “Each of his chocolates are named after a woman,” said Dabit. “His chocolate is made up of 55 percent cocoa beans.”

All the dark chocolate in stock at Around the World as well as some of the coffees, teas and hand made crafts are fair trade items. Dabit hopes to increase the number of fair trade items he supplies. On display are unique, hand painted pins from Russia. Designed by Golden Cockreral Crafts (GCC), the pins are in response to cuts in government funding for the orphanages in Russia. The importer of the pins and collectables is based in Boone, N.C. and is dedicated to helping Russians help themselves. GCC arranges for professional artisans to teach the children the traditional Russian folk art of painting for modest donations to the program. All of the proceeds (100 percent) are split between the young artists and the orphanage, which is badly in need of repairs.

At the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, gift shop director, Arleita Wieczorek carries gifts from Armenia, Haiti, and the Philippines. There are huge numbers of people leaving Armenia because of unemployment, explained Wieczorek. Creating jobs is essential for the survival of their country. “Those who are leaving are the ones who have enough skills and knowledge to find employment outside of Armenia, thus the country is depleting the number of skilled people,” she said, reading from Heartbeats Catalog. Heartbeats is a fair-trade catalog that networks women in underdeveloped communities and is a ministry of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. They can be contacted by calling (800) 808-1991 or visiting the website at www.heartbeatscatalog.org.

Wieczorek said that she will have a number of items on hand made in Third World countries for the Christmas holiday, including small wooden angels handcrafted from pear wood, handmade paper cards made out of Cogan grass and stems of banana trees and religious jewelry. The Spirit Jewelry is made by the Sisters of St. Joseph in LaGrange, Ill. who are committed to the values of unity, relationship and inclusivity of many cultures and religions. Bracelets and necklaces are made of sterling silver, 18-karat gold filling with Swarovski and Szech beads. The Sisters work with villagers in Palestine to become part of the peace process.

Catholic Relief Services is the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community. It provides humanitarian and development assistance in eight major programming fields including agriculture, community health, education, emergency response, HIV/AIDS and peace building. Their gift catalog, Work of Human Hands, is a partnership between Catholic Relief Services and SERRV International that offers high quality, fairly traded handcrafts and food items from low-income producers all over the world. To request a catalog, call (800) 685-7572 or visit the website at www.catholicrelief.org/work The Navajo Co-op publishes a catalog called The Gathering Place. The company is a community-based nonprofit organization that provides culturally relevant projects, information and services on the Navajo Nation and the surrounding areas that develop self-sufficiency, increase economic opportunities and promote healthy and literate families.

Phone (800) 862-5763.

The purchase of hand-carved nativity scenes, superior chocolates or gourmet coffee supports fair trade artisans and farmers and brings joy not only to the recipient of the unique gift, but also to the craftsmen and women and growers who provide them.

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