Ten Thousand Villages: Organization Helps World Artisans Help Themselves

I fell in love with Ten Thousand Villages as a store when I first shopped there over ten years ago in Raleigh, NC. But recently when I researched an article for Candid Slice about the store reopening in my town, I fell in love with the motivation and aspirations of this organization to help many in developing countries through fair trade. Artisans are given a chance to improve their lives, their family’s lives, and often the livelihood of their countrymen. Their products come from their own traditional skills or products. Income and business know-how are also gained from their participation in this market.

I do not write blogs to advertise for businesses. But I do write to help promote worthy causes. Ten Thousand Villages is not a business but an organization of many artisans under the umbrella of the Fair Trade Act and organized through Ten thousand Villages. It is a lifeline to people in poverty that can help them rise above their situations and hopelessness. I want to support and to promote this kind of organization.

The article I am taking excerpts from was about a re-opening of one of their stores in Cary, NC. Since there are stores and alliance stores over the United States, I will share enough of the original article to tell their story. The original article can be found at:


The chain of stores has a “wide selection of handmade gifts, decor and personal accessories, and household goods (coffee, bowls, baskets, bath and kitchen tools). Games, percussion instruments and toys from many cultures are there for children to enjoy too.”

Cary's Ten Thousand Villages - 2


Great Source for Unique Gifts

Ten Thousand Villages has a large supply of handmade Christmas ornaments, manger scenes, as well as gifts for  followers of other faiths. Twelve year veteran volunteer Susan O’Neil remarked that many gifts are geared to the Christian faith for Christmas, but Jewish dreidels and mandalas used by Christian, Buddhist, Pagan and Hindu practitioners, are also available.

How did it begin?

The movement to help connect artisans from developing countries to buyers began by a Mennonite volunteer, Edna Ruth Byler. Her project began with “Overseas Needlepoint and Craft Project in 1952. Later the name evolved along with its growth to SELFHELP: Crafts of the World in 1968. In 1989 SELFHELP assisted in the establishment of The International Fair Trade Association. Ten Thousand Villages in 1996 became the name of the chain of what is now over 350 stores, all with fair trade certification. This means that one hundred artisan groups, involving thousands of artisans in over 30 countries all over the world benefit from the Fair Trade Certification. A few of the active countries included are Thailand, Peru, Kenya, and the Phillipines.

Where did such an unusual name come from?

Quote from the website for Ten Thousand Villages explains the name:

‘The inspiration for our name—Ten Thousand Villages—came from a Mahatma Gandhi quote: “…India is not to be found in its few cities but in the 700,000 villages…we have hardly ever paused to inquire if these folks get sufficient to eat and clothe themselves with.” To us, each village in the world represents a unique, distinctive people…offering extraordinary products born of their rich cultures and traditions.’

How is the Fair Trade Certification helpful?

Since the items are handmade and sold in a store run by volunteers, there are fewer expenses to be deducted from the profit of the artisans. The skilled tradesmen are paid when they deliver their products to be shipped. With a more direct and personal relationship between the participating artisans and their buyers, more business can develop and therefore more consistent income. With this system craftsmen can more quickly and more clearly see the value of their products. Encouraged by these influences, they can work at an honest trade to support their families “instead of selling illegal products or joining an insurgent army to make money to support their families.”

What is it like to volunteer for Ten Thousand Villages?

When asked what she enjoys most about volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages, Susan O’Neill answered, “Knowing that I am helping people in other nations; and letting other people know about what the store does.” Interestingly volunteering in the store can also influence participants to see each item in the store for what it is: “Every product is a miracle.”

Why do the craftsmen feel hope?

Sangita Tiga from Bangladesh, praised the differences Ten Thousand Villages made in many women’s lives. She commented that having enough food to feed a family is often a problem. To ward off starvation women often worked in “unregulated, dangerous factories” to bring home enough money to feed their children. Worse still some mothers became prostitutes to make money in the poverty stricken areas. But thanks to their new enterprises, jobs, and often training they can make much more money to feed and clothe their children. Just as important, the artisans have hope for a better future and have pride in their work.”

Their online site is:  http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/

Please see some of the videos about these gifted artisans on the website. You will be amazed at the creativity of these people and the difference Ten Thousand Villages is making in their lives.

Sun Swirl Baskets from Uganda

Sun Swirl Baskets from Uganda


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