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ne small craft store, found in Kidron, is making a difference in lives around the world. By supporting artisans in underprivileged countries, Lisa Zuercher and her many volunteers at World Crafts are working to provide a sustainable, global economic system and eradicate global poverty.
"In a lot of cultures around the world, women are not valued," said Zuercher, World Crafts manager. "If a woman is able to use her gift in creating beautiful works of art, it becomes valuable to her and she can contribute to her family. It gives her a sense of respect among her community."
World Crafts got its start in the 1980s as a part of the Orrville Gift and Thrift. In 1985, Lois Lehman began putting fair trade products in Lehman's Hardware and discovered they were selling pretty well. When Jay Lehman decided to build a large building behind the hardware store for other business ventures, Lois saw a storefront possibility for a store that focused on fair trade products. In 1990, World Crafts became one of the first storefronts in the building.
Fair Trade focuses on the hard work of talented people trying to make a living in underdeveloped and developing countries. It provides a sustainable way of life and supports the conservation of the environment.
Zuercher recognizes the importance of Fair Trade products and the difference it can make in the lives of an individual struggling to make ends meet. "It's all about the people making the product," said Zuercher. "We're trying to help them to support their families."
By supporting Fair Trade, World Crafts is providing good working conditions for artisans, no child labor and opportunities for increasing income. "We are looking for the people that only make one dollar a day and increasing that to two dollars a day," said Zuercher. This could potentially be the opportunity for a woman to send her child to school or purchase a chicken to supply their family with fresh eggs.
Women who are disabled, widowed or divorced, and rural women who are landless, are often cast out by their communities. Fair Trade reaches out to these women and offers them the opportunity to earn money for a skill. Fair trade may also offer loans to families and even offer banking options for women to save money for their families.
Lorene Amstutz, assistant manager said, young women in Bangladesh are sold and married off at the young age of 11 or 12. They have no choices over their life as they come from impoverished families.
"If their mom were involved in a craft, the daughter would be needed to stay at home and learn the craft as well," said Amstutz. Eventually the mother can earn enough money to send her daughter to school and eventually earn some money for herself and have more choices for her life.
After visiting families in need, Fair Trade organizations reach out to underprivileged countries and show them how they can use resources to develop a craft, explained Amstutz. "Eventually they make enough money to feed their families and make their homes more livable."
Under Fair Trade policies, artisans have a market for their product. Fair wages are offered to both men and women (gender equality) and artisans don't have to give up their cultural identity. You can see this cultural identity reflected in the unique crafts that are sold in the store.
Artisans will use whatever resources are available to them such as recycled metal, paper, etc. This skill is often passed down from generation to generation and becomes a part of their culture. Some organizations are specific with the type of craft they make while other groups (that have been around longer) may have more diverse crafts.
A doctor in Colombia needed a second job to make ends meet. She saw orange peels on the side of the street and began thinking of ways to turn them into a craft. She eventually left her practice in order to start her co-op and hire workers to make the ornaments. It took a lot of trial and error but her co-op became successful enough to support her and give her the opportunity to hire other workers.
Beautiful, woven earrings, stone rings and egg shell ornaments are made from co-ops in Peru. Fashionable scarves come from India and home décor items like tea light holders, paper roses and lamps are from Bangladesh.
A co-op in Uganda makes baskets and a special hat from the bark of a tree that grows locally. Once the bark is harvested, the tree is covered with banana leaves and fresh bark will grow back in three months.
A co-op in Vietnam uses recycled paper, newspaper, old posters and other paper products to create unique bowls, vases, lamps and clocks.
"Most Fair Trades crafts are made from sustainable materials. It's all about preserving the earth versus destroying it," said Zuercher.
World Crafts has made it a goal to educate its customers on what Fair Trade is and the importance of supporting sustainability for underprivileged communities. "We want to educate people that they have purchasing power and the ability to make a difference in someone's life," said Zuercher.
Amstutz loves to educate shoppers on the products. "I use it as a teaching tool," she said. She points to the orange peel ornaments and asks, "What do you think that is made out of?" and "Can you imagine trying to make something like this out of an orange peel?"
"Sometimes I just tell people about our products and how it is helping others, and I may not sell anything at all. But I am educating them on Fair Trade and that's OK," said Amstutz.
"Americans have a lot of spending power. How often do we ask ourselves, do our purchases matter? If you make a Fair Trade purchase there is a certification that you are indeed making a difference," said Zuercher.
World Crafts will be having their Anniversary Sale, September 20. Shoppers will be able to receive 25 percent off one item and be entered into a drawing for special giveaways. Shoppers may also enjoy a cup of coffee and chocolate. Don't miss the Annual Open House on November 13 - "the only night of the year we are open late," said Zuercher. Customers will enjoy special sales and refreshments until 8 p.m.
World Crafts is located at 13110 Emerson Road, Kidron. Store hours are Monday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Call 330-857-0590 for more information.