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Ten Thousand Villages

Posted Oct 21 2008 12:12am

And so the email solicitations keep coming, with more and more cause-marketing or eco-gifts to tempt me. I almost ordered a book called If the World Were A Village, a children's book which boils down the statistics of the world's 6.2 billion people into a village of 100 (22 people speak a Chinese dialect, 20 earn less than a dollar a day, things like that).

I almost ordered earrings from a a site called Nest, which quotes the naturalist John Muir, "Everyone needs beauty as well as bread" and which is dedicated to helping women in developing countries around the world.

I actually did order a couple things from a site that makes gifts from recycled, reused, and natural materials, specifically a bracelet with five New York City subway tokens from different time periods on it, and a cell phone case made of recycled highway billboards.

But, ultimately, today I save my raves for the amazing store I fell upon yesterday, hidden away in a newish shopping center in Sandy Springs, a suburb of Atlanta. It's called Ten Thousand Villages. A non-profit organization started in 1946, Ten Thousand Villages has relationships with over 100 artisan groups in more than 30 countries. There are about 100 store locations in North America right now (only two in the state of Georgia--the other one is in Atlanta's Virginia Highland neighborhood, on Charles Street). You can also order from the website, but my goodness, why would you want to if you have the chance to go in there and see? To hear stories? To touch?

Even though it is a little store, Ten Thousand Villages took me at least a half hour to make my way around. Interestingly, the store is staffed by volunteers. Lynn, the volunteer I met, could not have been nicer in digging out the stories that go with each of the items I bought. This necklace, for instance, was made by artisans living in Bogra, five hours outside the capital city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, out of a natural fiber called kaisa, which is a locally-grown grass. A woman named Asheda Bibi is one of the artisans, and she uses the money she makes to send her children to school.

I met the new manager of the store, Melanie. Her dad was in the air force and she grew up all over the world. It's no surprise how that works, that a child exposed to world cultures would find her way to a job like this.

I found something for everyone there. Fair-trade organic chocolate and coffee. Jewelry. Candles that match my mother's new moss green walls. A little elephant to add to another relative's collection.

I even found something to covet (and coveting is one of my favorite hobbies--I love to want something and not get it--the wanting is so pleasurable to me). It was a journal made of recycled Chinese newspaper that was rolled and glued together in a way I cannot explain. AND it had a CHICKEN in the middle of the cover! It would be immediately ruined if it got wet. Yet. Yet. I stood there and held it. Ahhh, it was so wonderful.

Ten Thousand Villages appears to be in a horrible location. It is hidden deep in the shopping center, with no prominent signage at the entrance to alert you as to its presence. And it is clear across the parking lot from a Kroger, which seems to do the major traffic in the center.

"People have bags of frozen peas--they don't want to come spend time in here," a man named Steve from the Home Office in Akron, Pennsylvania told me. "And no one else knows we're even here. We have to get the word out."

And so, here goes. Get the word out. When in north Atlanta, go to Ten Thousand Villages in the CityWalk shopping center right off Hammond Drive (across from Whole Foods--and don't miss The World Peace Cafe! That's where I had that amazing Peace Burger and vegan chocolate almond cake a while back!).

Not in Atlanta? No problem. Visit the site and find a store near you. Or shop online and see if you don't find something for everyone on your list.

As well as something to covet yourself.

P.S. Don't forget about Pliny the Elder Quote Totes! Five bucks from every bag ordered goes to Ryan's Well Foundation--specifically, to the Kajiado rainwater harvesting system initiative. I checked the Ryan's Well website and I see that there is more than $22,000 in that fund now (up from about $15,000, when I first posted about it in November). Only another $5,800 to go for that project to be fully funded! I'm not sure how much of this effort is because of FoodShed Planet Friends for Kajiado (write that in the comments section when you donate ), but I know we've helped. Let's push it over the edge now and wake up Christmas morning knowing we have worked together to make it happen.

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