Shoppers peruse handmade goods available for purchase at the B’nai Sholom Fair Trade Market held earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Fair Trade Bethlehem)
DELMAR — In 2009, a Bible study group in Bethlehem began a conversation about human trafficking and the sex slavery trade. Members, disturbed by what they learned, were moved to take action and looked for ways to help those who are the most vulnerable—women and children. They ultimately decided the best way to help from upstate was to offer alternative sources of income for families whose livelihoods—and culture, in many cases—may have been become untenable in their developing communities.
The group started by offering samples of fair trade coffee outside a local cafe in May. Not long after, they partnered with the Fair Trade Bethlehem campaign and a Thanksgiving tradition was born.
“Having fair trade markets to sell their wares allows marginalized families to continue to farm or create goods that preserve and honor their traditions and culture,” said Sue Kilgallon, chair of the Outreach Committee at Delmar Presbyterian Church. This will be the third year the church has hosted the annual Black Friday Fair Trade Market, now in its seventh year. In addition to the two-day November event, the fair trade market pops up in alternate locations around the Capital District and Saratoga several times a year in an effort to expose a greater number of people to their products and philosophy.
“As their income goes up, families that otherwise might be split apart for lack of basic needs like food may now be kept together,” Kilgallon explained. “Desperate parents no longer need to leave their children in search of work or worse, send away or sell their children to prevent starvation. For those who have already been torn from their homes, fair trade income helps them escape abusive lives as victims of exploitation. This income provides opportunity, hope and dignity.”
In a press release announcing the event, the market’s co-founder Marilynn Kriss explained the difference between mainstream commercial products and fair trade: “Paying a fair return for their products, and creating long-term relationships, fair trade businesses empower artisans to care for themselves and their families, so that they and their communities can thrive. Many mainstream businesses often rely on cheap sources of labor to achieve high profit margins, while the people who work in their factories or on their farms make barely enough to survive.”
“What if everything we wore, we ate, and absolutely everything we bought empowered someone to better their lives and the lives of those in their community,” Kriss asked, quoting Abhi Nangia of Better World Ed, a resource dedicated to infusing core education curricula with humanity and global stewardship. “Imagine what that world could look like — a world in which everyone had the opportunity to live with purpose and dignity. That world is within our reach. Let’s work towards it.”
“What makes me personally so excited about the Fair Trade Market is the variety of causes we are helping,” said Kilgallon. This year, she said, the market is presenting 11 vendors, including:
A group that works with Guatemalans to help them remain in their ancestral homes and support themselves through traditional crafts.
Mango Tree Imports:
A fair trade shop in Saratoga carrying a variety
of products from fair trade artisans around the world.
Women’s Peace Collection: Focuses on helping women, but supports fair trade projects all over the world. Kilgallon called their jewelry “amazing.”
An organization dedicated to helping farmers in Central and South America and Africa. Most are familiar with their coffee, tea and chocolate products but they also produce many other food items.
Heartsounds Uganda: Their goal is to reduce the misunderstanding and stigma endured by mental health service users through sale of jewelry they produce.
Cross Culture Market: A Ravena-based business fighting worldwide poverty through sales of fair trade handicrafts, coffee, tea, chocolate and specialty foods.
Bosnian Handicrafts: Jewelry, knitted, woolen and other handcrafted items made by marginalized women in Bosnia.
By selling variety of handmade Guatemalan fabrics, purses, ceramics, jewelry and blankets, this organization provides school scholarships to children and young adults.
Started by a former Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, this group offers carved wooden animals, Kente cloth, ceramic items, musical instruments and jewelry. Their focus is education and humanitarian work.
Hands Up for Haiti:
Selling products by the Women of Milot, a sewing cooperative, and Haiti coffee, a small farmer coffee collective, this organization delivers direct care to children and their families in Northern Haiti and provide medical and public health programs.
Baskets from Ghana, Senegal and Madagascar.
Fair Trade Connections: Textiles, jewelry, home wares and paper goods from Afghanistan, India, China and Africa. This organization promotes women’s issues, including economic and personal empowerment and freedom from trafficking. Fair Trade Connections also supports Amani Ya Juu and Freeset.
Amani Ya Juu:
A women’s sewing and reconciliation project begun in several African countries, focused on helping women displaced by political conflict.
This group provides training and employment for women freed from the sex trade in Kolkata, India.
“Purchases and gift-giving take on greater meaning when such connections are fostered,” said Kriss. “The items bring the world into our everyday lives, even as they make a difference in the lives of producers.”
The Black Friday Fair Trade Market will take place Nov. 25-26, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Delmar Presbyterian Church, located at 585 Delaware Ave. Organizers advise arriving early for the best selection. The market will also include a fun and educational activity for children.