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Young Adult Volunteers commit to serving a minimum of one year in the U.S. or Internationally at one of our sites. YAVs have the opportunity to volunteer alongside local partners, engaging in work and conversation around issues that address poverty, reconciliation, and what it means to share the hope of Christ through service. This blog is a chance to stay updated on what is happening in the life of the YAV program, whether that is with our current volunteers, our abundance of alum, the YAV office, or our YAV partners. The conversations and tough issues that we spend countless hours talking about as YAV’s don’t end when the year does; welcome to the conversation! If you have more questions, feel free to email.
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I can’t convince anybody that they should buy Fair Trade products. I can’t rewire people’s brains so that they acknowledge, understand, and internalize the dire economic situation of the majority of our sisters and brothers in the world. I can’t force people to change. I can only tell my story. I can only attest to the need for change. I can only plead that you listen.
I am sure that you have heard or seen over and over again in the recent years the call to buy local, organic, vegan, fair trade, sweat-shop free, etc etc. You’ve been instructed to know where your products come from, who made them, if the workers were paid fairly, what materials they consist of, how they arrived at the store, and what the store you are buying them from is doing with the profits. You have been told to be a conscious consumer.
I am not really saying anything different, in all honesty. But I do want to confess to you that this seems and is a daunting task to me as well. I fail at it often. I get tired and lazy. But what I can tell you is that it is worth paying attention to and attempting. I can say that with full confidence. It matters. A lot.
During my YAV year, I spent my time working on the other end of the chain of production. I worked with 16 different artisan groups around Peru and walked alongside them during all the stages of production, from ordering and picking the type, weight, and composition of yarn to quality control of finished products to shipping the products to clients. Take, for example, the group Sumaq Ruracc, some of whom are pictured above. This group of about 50 women and men are from a small town called Yauli in the central Andes, which is located at over 11,000 feet above sea level. They are traditional knitters (the women) and weavers (the men). Their native language is Quechua, although some of the younger generations are also able to speak Spanish quite well. They have traditionally provided for the family agriculturally (especially by growing native potatoes – it is said that Peru has more than 4000 varieties of potatoes!) and pastorally (tending flocks of sheep).
The field of the poor may yield much food,
but it is swept away through injustice.
With the dramatic changes in climate, the agricultural landscape has changed. No longer are there glaciers and ice caps to preserve water for later in the year. The land which once provided more than enough to live on now suffers from dramatic floods during the rainy season and drought in the dry season. In an attempt to avoid the trend to move to the big cities and in an effort to preserve their traditional culture and language, they are trying to sell their artisanal craft – beautifully knit and woven products – as an extra source of income. They don’t speak English. Their Spanish is rusty or nonexistent. They have very little experience in how to run a small business locally, let alone internationally. The closest Internet connection means a three-hour trip into the city. They’ve never had to produce exactly identical products made to size. But what they do have is talent and lots of it.
The desire and need to sell artisan products has increased in recent years. Businesses have caught on to this, and now the trend is for large corporations to come in and offer these artisans a job. The artisans knit their products and get money for them. But, like you might have guessed, they make nowhere near the minimum wage and work far more hours than is healthy. They don’t use safety gear (the small fibers from yarn often cause lung and eye problems after continued exposure) and they find themselves more reliant than ever on the modern way of life that they so wanted to avoid. They find themselves and their talent exploited.
Bridge of Hope Fair Trade, the non-profit I served with in Peru, works in solidarity with these artisans as they move forward in their business ventures. We partner with them, helping to find clients who will pay fairly and ensuring that they grow as people and entrepreneurs while still preserving their traditional culture. We provide training and advice in areas like quality control and product design. We help the women as they begin to take a slightly different role in the family as breadwinners. We work with leaders in the group on community organizing. We also provide administrative support so that clients who only speak English can still place orders. I could go on and on but you get the point.
“The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord”
During my year with Bridge of Hope, I had the privilege of visiting each group to hear and record their story. It was encouraging to hear the stories of success and the ways in which their participation in Fair Trade has positively affected their lives and the lives of their family. Each group had a story of success and growth. But each also had a story of struggle and failure and difficulty. I could tell you stories of economic insecurity, of constant battle against a chauvinistic culture, and of lack of running water in the home. What amazed me, though, was the hope that they all showed. One question I asked every group was what their vision was for the next five years. Almost without fail, they replied that they wanted to get more orders and find more customers. That was the response that I was expecting to hear.
But what they said next was what really made an impression on me. They want more orders and more customers, not primarily so they can have more money for themselves and their families, but so that they can employ their neighbors. They want their neighbors to know and experience what it is to be a part of a team, to have a voice, to have a vision, and to dream again. Bridge of Hope provides so much more than just an income for these artisans; it provides a new way of life. A way of life that is fair and just. One in which the women stand up for themselves and begin to share equally with their husbands. One in which they can say proudly that they are sending their children through high school and college. One in which they value the work that they do and the culture they belong to.
“for workers deserve their pay”
In this Christmas season and in this New Year that is right around the corner, I challenge you to seriously consider the claims of the Gospel. If we claim to believe what we find in the Bible, that the loving, compassionate, and merciful God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of the world, than our response should be one of gratitude. This gratitude in expressed in valuing what God values and trying to love with the same compassion and mercy that was shown to us. We must assure that with every decision, including our purchases, we are acting justly, loving kindness, and walking humbly in the knowledge that we have been saved.
If you would like to read more about Bridge of Hope and the artisans I worked with, visit: http://fairtradeperu.com/en/. Partners for Just Trade is one of our partners in the U.S. that sells Bridge of Hope products. Check them out here: https://www.partnersforjusttrade.org/. You have been blessed to be a blessing.
M.Div Class of 2017
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Inquirer, Boise Presbytery
by Matthew Schmitt
At the end of claiming commitment to anti-racism, I believe, ought to be a yearning towards authentic racial reconciliation, whether any of us see that in our lifetimes, as integral to the kind of people God calls us to be. As the director of DOOR Hollywood, I have been hired to speak into this. I have always drawn upon my experiences in prisons, in juvenile detention centers, being fed, physically, spiritually, and emotionally by African-American, Vietnamese, and Latino families in New Orleans and Hollywood. I have shared the essences, and when granted permission, the specifics, of stories ...
In a city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, home to a surprising variety of cultures, and celebrated as a tourist destination, Asheville YAVs will engage in transformative mission, living the Gospel by building relationships and creating community with people on the margins experiencing desperate need. Asheville is a place where diverse perspectives constantly negotiate space as the city grows and changes. YAVs in Asheville will work with local worship communities and nonprofit partners to build meaningful connection and creative community across our city's invisible borders, while seeking faith together in a YAV house experience that will include regular ...
By Jason Woods, YAVA-Peru 2006/2007
15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. -2 Corinthians 4:15-16 (NRSV)
Thanksgiving might just be my favorite holiday, and to this day, the only Thanksgiving I didn’t spend with my family was during my YAV year in Peru. Obviously, it was difficult not celebrating like I usually would— cooking ...
When people ask you about your YAV year, you probably have different responses depending on who is asking, how much they actually care, and how much time you have. You probably have responses that range from 1 minute to 1 hour. But can you describe your YAV year in only seven words?
“Arrived, cried, laughed, cried, prayed, cried, left.”
“Kenya: beautiful, poor, Christian, alive, strong, weak”
“Midnight tea time with Mama Juana. Priceless.”
“Argue, wash dishes, love, laugh, keep trying.”
“We loved each other and grew together.”
Your answers can be theological or hysterical. They can be descriptive or ...