Doing Good: Local fair-trade store helps disadvantaged artisans world-wide

To volunteer with Ten Thousand Villages, go to

In 1946, Edna Ruth Byler’s trip to Puerto Rico sparked an idea. Noticing the detailed needlepoint work done by women in poverty-ridden villages along the island, Byler took the crafts back home to Pennsylvania and sold them to her friends. The money then went back to the local women in Puerto Rico and so started the inspiration behind Ten Thousand Villages.

The idea was inspired by the fact that these artisans had handicraft skills, but needed a way to get the products out to the markets. Through Ten Thousand Villages, artisans from Mexico to Cameroon to the West Bank have found a way to build sustainable lives and break the cycle of poverty.

“The concept, as it grew, became about hiring people who cannot be hired,” said Virginia Murray, founding board member and volunteer for the Atlanta store located in Virginia-Highland.

Besides helping poverty-stricken yet talented artisans around the world, Ten Thousand Villages also has partnerships with groups like Rehab Craft Cambodia, a nonprofit that creates employment for Cambodians with disabilities.

“The money the artisans earn goes to sending their children to school, building a home, and buying food,” added Murray. “It does change their life, and they are grateful. Our goal is to keep placing more orders to continue giving them work.”

The social entrepreneurship model is also a fair–trade retailer meaning that it upholds fair pay, no child labor, and environmental sustainability among other requirements.

The nonprofit also commissions items from local groups such as Women’s Bean Project in Denver that employs chronically impoverished and unemployed women through a transitional job in gourmet food and handcrafted jewelry manufacturing while coffee roasters in Americus, Ga. partner with fair-trade coffee grower Café Campesino.

The items are then brought to the many brick-and-mortar stores around the country to sell the handcrafted items to the public.

Because of its expanding outreach, the organization also depends on volunteers to help run the store and spread the message of Ten Thousand Villages. Buckhead-resident Karen Turney volunteers at the store and continually learns about the crafts and the people they represent.

“Learning about these artisans and knowing their story through something they made with their own hands just makes me feel connected to these individuals around the world,” she said.

In other news: Bank of North Georgia employees and customers at the bank's 41 branches raised $28,000 to help support the work of Action Ministries Feed the Hungry campaign. The funds will help provide more than 100,000 meals for hungry families in 2014 through the nonprofit's Feed the Hungry Food Box program.