Ten Thousand Villages Weaves World Together

Ten Thousand Villages Weaves World Together

The best weapon can be entreprenurism.

There are basically two ways to fight terrorism. One is through armed might. The other is to raise the level of economic independence among the citizens of poorer nations so that terrorist rhetoric is denied its audience.

Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer of international arts and crafts, has chosen the path less traveled.

Last Saturday Alexandria's Ten Thousand Villages store, 824 King St., celebrated its 10th Anniversary with a day-long multicultural block party. There was music, dancing and refreshments. But, best of all there was the sound of the store's cash register as customers voted with their wallets to make life a little better for artisans in distant lands.

"We've been running two cash registers all day. This is really the kick off to our holiday season," said David Bucher, a member of the non-profit organization's Board of Directors and a regular volunteer at the store.

"WHEN PEOPLE LEARN what our mission is and see the end products our artisans produce, it really helps not only us but also the craftspeople in underdeveloped countries worldwide," he said. "We've actually been in the anti-terrorism business for nearly 60 years."

During the past decade, Alexandria's store has developed a reputation for importing beautiful, fairly-traded, handmade crafts from around the world, according to Danwe N'Dikwe, store manager. Usually there are about 200 plus products in the store at any one time produced by artisans in over 30 countries.

"Fair trade means we are paying the artisans enough for them to live a middle class life in their country or village. They set the price on their products," Bucher said.

"I was in the Peace Corps at one time and when you went into a village in one of those countries it was immediately obvious who in that village was a Ten Thousand Village producer. They had the better roof on their home or other amenities their neighbors did not have because they were making a decent wage," he said.

The celebration began at 11 a.m. and went until 4 p.m. One of those attending was Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille who delivered an opening address to kick off the festivities.

"He brought a real level of excitement to the event," Bucher said.

Gov. Mark Warner also declared Saturday "Ten Thousand Villages Day."

IN 1946, THE WIFE of a Mennonite Central Committee relief worker initiated the Ten Thousand Villages concept by going into needy areas to teach various crafts or work with consortiums in the country to develop crafts and products. Artisans are paid the living wage for that country which enables those craft people to become self sufficient.

Over the years the program has grown to include a network of more than 130 affiliated outlets across North America. The Old Town Alexandria store, since opening in 1994, has become the top-selling independent fair trade store in the organization.

Although the store is managed by a small day-to-day staff, its success depends heavily on the work of over 50 volunteers, according to N'Dikwe. The Board of Directors itself is composed of volunteers such as Bucher.

Julie Becker, board chair, attributes the store's success to the dedication of its customers. "Many of our customers are local folks who keep returning because they know we provide an opportunity to shop locally while helping internationally."

Headquartered in the Lancaster County, Penn., town of Akron and New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada, Ten Thousand Villages is a separate entity from the Mennonite Church, although it is governed by the Mennonite Central Committee, according to Becker. As stated in their literature, it is the relief and development agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in North America.

In addition to providing the means by which citizens of developing countries can make a sustainable income, the project is also involved with environmental issues. By making products such as hand made paper out of plants it is contributing to environmental protection, they state.

Ten Thousand Villages' stores are located in 34 states stretching from New York to California. Their stated mission is to work "with artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. This income helps pay for food, education, health care, and housing."

The Alexandria store is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from Noon to 6 p.m. Beginning Friday of Thanksgiving weekend and continuing until Christmas it will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact the store manager at 703-684-1435.