Here's a nifty trick: shop locally … and buy globally. Or how about: find beauty … and do good. Ten Thousand Villages (TTV), the store devoted to bringing the handicrafts and objets d'art of artisans from developing countries to the richest consumer market of the world, effortlessly accomplishes those nifty tricks on a daily basis.
The idea is simple, elegant, and ethical: help the poor of the world to earn a living by creating a reliable, stable, and non-exploitative channel for them to sell handicrafts in the United States. The "fair trade" concept at the heart of this store is elegant in and of itself, but Ten Thousand Villages is much, much more than a dry concept. It is a living and moving sea of stories of transformation, resourcefulness, and new purpose.
The "Highland Women's Multipurpose Co-op" of the Philippines is a great example of how lives are transformed and material given new purpose by Ten Thousand Villages artisans. The town where this organization took shape and now flourishes, Baguio City, sits at 5,000 feet above sea level, high in the mountains of the Philippine island of Luzon.
Baguio City has seen its share of hardship and setbacks: In 1990 a huge earthquake on the island of Luzon destroyed much of the infrastructure of the town, leveling houses and buildings, cutting the city off from the rest of the country for 48 hours, and killing hundreds of people.
The population has grown to more than 300,000 since it was founded in the early 20th century, as the rural poor of the surrounding areas continue to move to the city in search of jobs and a better life. During the hopefulness of rebuilding, as Baguio City was rebounding from the great earthquake, the Highland Women's Multipurpose Co-op was founded in 1994.
The Oak Park Ten Thousand Villages store carries many of the crafts made by this co-op, among them a number of objects made with clean, recycled newspaper. The cleverness of this technique has to be seen to be believed. Instead of vast quantities of newspaper piled up or burnt, these artisans give it new life and new purpose in a way that is a signal lesson in recycling. But most importantly, the colors and shapes of the newsprint used in these pieces really catch the eye, and make the placemats and other crafts engaging and fun. Baguio City has the reputation in the Philippines of being an "artsy" city, and the ingenuity of the Highland Women's Multipurpose Co-op recycled-paper crafts certainly shows why.
Ten Thousand Villages works with hundreds of small groups like this co-op around the world. Its purpose is to be the central organizing mechanism that unites the output of these creative, hopeful, and artistic workshops in the developing world into a marketplace of global goods here in our country, right around the corner from you in downtown Oak Park. So buy local … and shop global.
Peter Burgi is an Oak Park Ten Thousand Villages board member.