Over the years, we have heard and shared numerous beautiful stories about the artisans and farmers who create the fair trade items we offer. Their powerful personal stories of change are the foundation of what this movement is about. We also want to share stories of the inspirational leaders of fair trade handcraft organizations—many of whom are women—who have made it their life’s mission to advocate on behalf of disadvantaged artisans. These women and their peers have built the global fair trade handcraft movement. Below, leaders from some of our fair trade partner organizations describe what fair trade means to them.
One of Serrv’s handcraft partners in the West Bank is Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans (BFTA). Its founder, Suzan Sahori, previously worked in the public sector, where she met and spoke with marginalized artisans who depend on the tourist market to sell their goods. “They depend largely on international visitors, which is an unsustainable source of income. Tourism decreases every time there is a political turbulence…I felt passionate about their cause and wanted to help them,” she says. She discovered fair trade and the potential solution it would offer for artisans’ struggles in Bethlehem. This led her to establish BFTA. Suzan continues, “Fair Trade has brought new hope to our producers; it empowers them with a unique understanding of their rights as hardworking producers, gave them power to stand in front of those who are taking advantage of them and mistreating them. They know that BFTA is ready to support them facing their life obstacles; they know they are getting their fair share of payment, and building new fair sales channels.”
In Kenya, sustainable employment and good quality of life is extremely hard to achieve for people with disabilities. Serrv partner Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Center provides rare opportunities for the physically handicapped, with Esther Mwanyama as their dedicated leader.
“People with disabilities now have an opportunity to do something meaningful and earn income. They are able to have families, take their children to school, and have health benefits
and housing, all as a result of fair trade. Seeing them living as dignified members in the communities, where they were initially discriminated against—especially women—this really motivates me,” Esther tells us.
Tanu Dey is the dynamic director of Dhaka Handicrafts in Bangladesh. She emphasizes the importance of empowering women and sending girls to school which are achieved through fair trade. She explains that many female artisans were forced to marry at a young age and therefore did not have the opportunity to attend school. This is changing within artisan
families, with increasing priority given to education instead of early marriage. “When I see our artisan families giving importance to their daughters’ education and sending them to school, I feel an inner satisfaction of my work and involvement in fair trade. When I talk with these young girls and they tell me their dream to be a teacher, nurse, join the army or become an entrepreneur, it inspires me so much. That is the change fair trade has made happen in the last 25 years among the rural families.”
Manos Amigas in Peru has been a Serrv partner since 1992, and their Director, Yannina Meza, previously worked for Serrv. When we asked Yannina what fair trade means to her, she shared this story of an artisan who came to Lima fleeing abuse from an alcoholic husband. “Rosa took her 9 children and came to Lima looking for work opportunities. She had learned from her father to make small animals out of sheep and alpaca wool...Manos Amigas made contact with her and started working on samples until she received an order. The order helped her buy land, and now she has been able to build a home and workshop, educate their 9 children and move ahead. Achievements like this example motivate us to keep working!"
Meet more inspiring women leaders of the fair trade movement in Part 2.