Shopping with a conscience

A group of Barrhaven girls recently discovered the principles of fair trade and the importance of ethical choices in a fun-filled evening of crafting and shopping, writes Sonia Mendes.


After getting an introduction to fair trade, a group of little girls from Barrhaven will likely view Christmas shopping differently this year.

In early November, the 194th Nepean Brownies visited the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale for an evening of learning, crafting and shopping at a marketplace of fair trade items from around the globe. The group totalled 30 girls – including 18 Brownies, 10 Girl Guides and two Pathfinders.

“Learning about our community, near and far, is an important part of the Brownie program,” said Danielle Stewart, a leader with the Girl Guides of Canada.

“Part of the arts section of our program includes ‘Crafts from Afar,’ where we learn about the handicrafts made in different parts of the world. Our visit to the Ten Thousand Villages market was a fun and informative way to cover both of these parts of our Brownie program.”

Ten Thousand Villages staged a large festival sale at the Ottawa Mennonite Church every weekend in November, a tradition that dates back more than 40 years.

The hand-crafted and fairly traded products for purchase are made by artisans around the world. All proceeds from the sale are used to support artisans in developing countries – and helps to provide them with much-needed food, health care, education and housing.

“Part of the Brownie promise is to ‘take action for a better world,’” added Stewart. “Learning about fair trade gave us an opportunity to illustrate that to the kids – to show them the importance of making ethical choices.”

The event began with a short presentation by Kathy Neufeld, a long-time volunteer with Ten Thousand Villages. Neufeld introduced some of the key concepts of fair trade (see sidebar), and passed around a few products for the girls to look at.

Ten Thousand Villages sells fairly traded food items (including coffee, tea, spices and chocolate), toys, instruments, jewellery, Christmas ornaments and more.

After completing a worksheet about fair trade, the girls had the chance to make an upcycled craft – a jewellery pouch made out of a coffee bag.

But perhaps the biggest highlight of their evening was the chance to shop the festival sale. The items’ careful construction and hand-crafted features were certainly not lost on eight-year-old Olivia Stewart.

“I like the toys they have,” she said. “They’re made out of real materials like wood, while other stores just have everything made out of plastic.

“When you buy stuff here, it’s like you’re doing a good deed for someone else in another country.”

Her friend, eight-year-old Kaylee Tucker, was enamoured with the decorations. “I bought a sparkly ornament that I’m going to put on my Christmas tree,” she said.

And Brownie leader Stewart said making learning fun for the kids carries more of an impact.

“The kids will remember the fair trade logo and point it out to parents and friends,” she says. “They will consider what they heard and, over time, I think it will have an influence on their choices.

“I think the messaging about fair trade and how the artists use their resources will quietly linger with them – it will move from their subconscious as they mature.”

Fair trade 101

Ten Thousand Villages volunteer Kathy Neufeld explains to kids that fair trade means:
• People get paid fairly;
• Children do not have to work, they can go to school;
• People work in safe places;
• Women’s work is properly valued (they get paid the same amount as men for doing the same work);
• There’s a connection between the producer and consumer, which means you can learn about the people who make fair trade items.

Recycled rainbow
Webstore PSDs
This stunning scarf was handcrafted with scraps of recycled silk.
Nepal, $34

What a hoot!
Decorating the tree will be a ton of fun with this wise old owl ornament, made from gourds that were carefully etched and burned. Crafted in Peru, $12.

Warm fuzzies
This happy Yeti ornament will have you smiling all season!
Handcrafted from cotton and felt in Nepal, $10.

Get rolling!
Toddlers will love this glossy, wooden turtle toy – its top spins as it moves. Handcrafted in India, $18.

Trumpet time
This polyester fibre-filled toy adds a cheerful touch to any child’s room. Made by disabled artisans in India, $14.

Photo by Sonia Mendes