Mary Beth Writes

Here we are again; this week begins the annual gargantuan lollapalooza of First World consumerism.

Sigh.

I love shopping as much as anyone. Give me twenty dollars and a quiet hour at Goodwill and I will come home with two bags of random cool stuff, 37 cents, and a song in my heart.

But that is not what we are talking about here.  The average US/North American family last year spent nearly $900 dollars on gifts. Much of what we buy will be products made by exploited people in countries far from our eyesight.  There is a lot of information on the internet about third world sweatshops, garment industries, food productions, etc.  Go ahead and ask the internet if YOUR favorite brands pay their employees fairly. Wanna really freak out? Ask the internet where on-sale shrimp comes from. Shudder.

You don’t need to become an expert but get some reality under your belt before you walk into Toys-R-Us or Walmart or the sweater department at your local mall. Self-education is a powerful and radical act.

Me and Kathleen in Antigua

I went to Guatemala on a MayaWorks tour for the first time in 2002. I did it because my BFF Kathleen said I had to. (If you know Kathleen you have probably also done stuff she told you to do. Hi Kath!)  I wrote about it in the newspaper column I had back then; I hosted consignment MayaWorks sales, made friends who are still my friends, and the next thing you know Racine, WI was one of the hotspots of MayaWorks activity - so I was invited to be on their board. I traveled to Guatemala three more times; twice arranging my own side-trips to stay weekends in the countryside with a MayaWorks weaving family.  I learned so, so, so much.

What are things to consider as you holiday shop?

1. First of all, if all of the world’s financially secure families decided to commit 1-2% of their annual gift budget to Fair Trade products, we could come close to stamping out dire global poverty in one generation.

Can you attempt this this year in your family? Can you devote 5% of your budget to Fair Trade products? If you are going to spend $800, can you spend $40 on Fair Trade stuff? New at this? Consider Fair Trade coffee, tea, and chocolate. http://www.fairtradefederation.org/shop-online/

2. Not everything that says its Fair Trade is. Right now claiming to be ‘fairly made’ is a great marketing tool so the package might say something similar to Fair Trade. (Like free trade or fairly made) Be aware.  Begin to learn and buy via Fair Trade Federation.  http://www.fairtradefederation.org/ 

3. This is generally how poor people got so poor: Folks lived in the countryside where they were able to support their families via subsistence farming. Governments, trade agreements, and multi-national corporations changed the world quickly; the need for cash trumped the ability to use the land in traditional ways. This created realities such as if you don’t pay taxes the government will take your land – so you can’t grow corn and beans anymore. You need to grow and sell cash crops such as strawberries and broccoli. When Americans in the Midwest (for example) decide to tighten their belts for all the reasons we do that, then there is no market for strawberries in February and now those third world farmers have no cash with which to pay their taxes, or rent, or school fees for their kids, or to buy the food they need to buy to replace the corn and beans they can no longer grow in sufficient amounts.  It’s a vicious cycle that has nothing to do with laziness.

In Santiago, about five feet to the left of clergy stoles being woven

If a Fair Trade organization such as MayaWorks enters the story - this is what can and often does happen.  A group of artisans or farmers in the rural community will come together to work under the occasional supervision of Fair Trade employees from the city. To grow or create products that are legitimately Fair Trade is a process; one has to learn new skills as well as collaborate on the old ones.

One of the weekends I stayed with the Mayan family we hiked up the hill to the loom of another woman in the village.  Five other women were there because it was time to put new threads on the loom to begin weaving a particular product. It’s HARD to set up a loom so the women work together; the older women show the younger ones what they are doing. (Maya people have been weaving for 2000 years, it’s in their DNA!)

Fair Trade organizations pay local artisans and farmers wages that are similar to the legal minimum wage in their country. No one gets rich but with additional cash income the family can survive small ups and downs of financial life. In the family I visited, now the dad and adult son could afford to plant some of their land to corn and beans for the family to eat, another section of land grew strawberries. They could diversify because they had cash coming in from their wives. Now the family could also - and this is revolution one family at a time – they could afford public school fees for ALL their four school-age kids and grandkids. Families struggle to keep their sons in elementary school as long as possible. Without Fair Trade, if the family is struck by a downturn (the dad gets a hernia and can’t work, someone gets sick, a mudslide destroys their house, a hurricane wipes out this year’s crop) - then this is what people do. They abandon their villages to move into the city. The adults get jobs in factories and the girls in the family do the child care and cooking while living in unregulated, dangerous, shack slums. While the parents are at work, making the things we so blithely buy.

Little girls at school

Fair Trade slows down the process of poor people becoming citizens of the world we live in now. If the kids can complete grammar and high school they can get better jobs. The women are valued for the incomes they generate. Partner abuse reduces greatly when the wife and mother in the family also earns an income. 

4. I heard this once and have never been able to source it.  “We Westerners don’t have to fix world poverty. All we have to do is support legitimate ways to get $5 more per week into the pockets of the world’s women - and they will end poverty themselves.”

When you train men towards better jobs and more income, many men spend that money on themselves. If you get that money to moms - they spend it on food, education, and medical care for their families. This is a stereotype – but it has strong truth in it.

Line up the kids in a poor village. The children of the artisans who work for Fair Trade organizations are taller! More food to eat. More protein. More security. Bigger smiles.

We were visiting an artisan community in the hills overlooking Lake Atitlan.  Someone asked the women what we should say to our friends back in the States about buying their products. One of the women stood up. She was beautiful in her traditional Maya blouse and skirt, hair in a long black braid, high cheekbones in an oval face.

She said, “Tell your friends that when they buy what we make, then we can feed our children and send them to school. We give thanks to God for you every day.”

Artisans and Women of Faith, Lake Atitlan

It isn’t charity. It’s using the power of the credit cards in our wallets. It’s deciding that while we are loving our friends and families, we are going to help other women and men love theirs.

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PS: Because it is so close to my heart, here is the MayaWorks story and how to shop at their site. http://www.mayaworks.org/

If you would like to reprint this in your social service or church newsletter, feel free to contact me and I will send you the Word file with or without the photos. All you need to do is credit me and run my web address. No payment. Let’s do our best to share what we know. 

Comments

Thank you so much for writing about this. Shopping small/local is near and dear to my heart and the way I choose to give back to my community and, by extension, to the world. I believe small batch makers are the people who are really going to make our country great "again"!
Mary Beth's picture

I agree. We look for big solutions because we want there to be one answer that fixes all. We underestimate the power of thoughtful choices and a neighborhood world view.

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Advent Light Post 12-4-2020

Like likes like.

I received this (above) lovely photo from Susan W of an old-fashioned city lamp seen through trees at night.

It made me recall the pix Karen P sent of her son and daughter-in-law at their wedding a few years ago. They lit and sailed paper lanterns propelled by small candles which (hopefully) flickered out when they flew high enough.

Which of course, reminded me of the paper lanterns at my kids’ wedding.

I don’t walk around noticing spheres and globes, but the image is just unusual enough to bring similar images to mind.

Advent Light Post 12/3/2020

The photo is Karen P's mom, Joan, who has been in quarantine in an assisted living residence since March. Her birthday party was a few months before all this began. Light for hope. Hope for light.

...

Yesterday I wrote “I liked figuring out the best way to position my stance in order to frame whatever it was I wanted to focus on.”

Point of View. 

Advent Light Post 12/2/2020

Len has been taking photos since he was a college newspaper reporter/photographer; (University of Chicago and University of Calgary). He has photos that he took from Willis (it was Sears then) Tower while it was under construction. Len had a journalist pass so he called to see if he could “do a story” and they didn’t ask if he was 20 yet, so he got the gig. When (if) he finds those photos, I will put some here.

As long as I have known him, Len has owned a camera. I think we are now on #3. He brought to our marriage the tripod that he still uses.

Advent Light Post 12/1/2020

(The photo is of headlights making a dotted line on the cemetery fence.) 

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Oh that morning! Len drove us like crazy across Chicago to the hospital where we would birth our first child.  It was a very clear, very cold December morning, kind of like what’s outside my window right now. 

That same evening I was wheelchaired back out of that hospital. When the lobby doors slid open, the world had become night and the driveway vapor lights lit a blizzard of whirling snow.

It was a completely different world. Yes it was.

Advent Light Post 11/30/2020

Today is Len’s birthday and to celebrate being born on the last day of November in the upper Midwest, he is out on his bike right now. It’s spitting snow, there are 20-30mph winds, and the real-feel temp is 20. He has on both pairs of his bicycling pants. He also has a slice of pumpkin raisin Bundt cake (hmmm, I wonder who baked that) in his bike’s little trunk. 

Happy Birthday to the kind of guy who, when a girl invites him to attend the Sunday school class she teaches - comes to that Sunday school class. A rare man, indeed. 

Advent Light 11/28/2020

Tomorrow, Sunday, is the first Sunday of Advent. 

So first of all, like I said before, I’m preaching. I think you can listen to the whole service starting at 9:30AM, if you go to https://www.uniteduuc.org/ .  There is usually a link there that you have to click, when you click it, it says something about YouTube, so click that link, too. Otherwise, by Monday (maybe earlier, I don’t know who does this or when) it will show up on YouTube at United Unitarian Universalist, Waukesha, and my name.

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9/11 17 minutes 500 Words AARPtaxes AAUW Acadia Accountable Advent apples Arrows Augustine baby balance Baldwin Barkskins Beauty Becky Berry birthday bistro BookReport boy scout Bread BrokenDays BuyAngry Cahokia calendars Canada cats cello Choosing Christmas cilantro Cinnabuns circus clouds Clowns clutter Colonialism comet ComfortZone CommonSense consumerism Cops Corvid-19 Courage Covid-19 Crazy creditreport CrimeShows death Debate December DecisionFatigue decluttering Detroit Dreams Duty eBay Eclipse EmilyDickinson exit polls FairTrade farmer firealarm Fitness Five Flexible flu Fort de Chartres frame Franc FrancGarcia friends frugal Frugality frustration Ft.Ticonderoga Gannets Garden GarfieldParkConservatory Gaspe genius geode ghosts GovernorThompsonStatePark groceries Guatemala guns happiness HaveYouEver? Healthinsurance HelleKBerry heroes hike History home HomeRepair Honduras Hope HouseinBlueRiver hurricane impeachment Innkeeper integrity InternetPrivacy Interview InviteMe2Speak JoyceAndrews Judy JulianofNorwich justice Karen Lamb LangstonHuges LaphamPeak laundry LeeLeeMcKnight lemming Len Light Lincoln Little Women LockedOut Love Ludington Macaw macho Manitoulin MargaretFuller Maria Hamilton Marquette marriage Mayan MayaWorks MindfulChickens Mistakes moon Mother MothersDay mouser movies museums must-haves New York City Nomadland OscarRomero osprey Outside oximeter PastorBettyRendon Paul Hessert PDQ Penny persimmon poetry Preaching privacy Protest Quern quest Rabbit holes racism recipe recipes Remember Reruns responsetoKapenga Retirement RitesofPassage Roses Ruth SamaritanWoman Sanctuary Sandhillcranes SaraRodriguez sculpture Sermon ServantsoftheQuest sewing Shepherd Shontay ShortStory sick sickness snow Social Security SofritoBandito SpaceShuttle spring square feet staining Stereotypes StoryStarts Survival swim taxes teenager thankgsgiving Thanksgiving ThePerpetualYou ThreeBillBoards TidalBore TimeBeing toddler Tom tortillas Trains travel Traveler Tubing turtle UnrelatedObservations urgency vacation Valentines vanilla Vietnam VivianWokeUpDrowning vole WalkingAndSeeing Wampanaog war WarsanShire weather weaving wedding WhyAttendChurch WillaCather
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