Reflections from US Director and Founder Diane Nesselhuf
October is fair trade month. What does fair trade mean exactly? Of course, it means paying people fairly, having good working conditions, etc. But what does it mean to me as far as being director of a fair trade nonprofit?
My background isn’t in design or business; I have learned about these things over the past 20 years. My background is in counseling. How does this apply? I think my background has helped in my philosophy of fair trade. To me, it means working with groups that don’t understand some basic things that we take for granted in the U.S. For instance, having high quality products, getting things done on time, and following through on commitments. It is not that the groups don’t know how to do this. I think it is that sometimes when they don’t understand something, people give up on them, and they give up on themselves. It is imperative that when we work with individuals and groups we know how to reframe.
Fair trade can take time. More time than a lot of people want to give. It is about working with people and teaching. I am always telling the staff, “This is a teaching moment. What do we do to teach?" This philosophy moves slowly, it is easier to just stop working with a group than to figure out what the problem is and work with them to solve it. This happens again and again and sometimes takes years to work with people who have not been to school and speak a language other than Spanish.
About 20 years ago, I went up into the mountains where there were a couple of weaving groups, but no one had been there to work with them. They were really poor, their children were malnourished, and they just seemed hopeless. A woman came to me to buy a purse that she had made. The sewing was terrible. She had a malnourished child on her back and was holding the hand of her other malnourished child. It would have been easy to give her a little money for the bag, but I didn’t. It was poor quality, and I didn’t want her to think that was okay. Instead, I sat with the group for several hours while we brainstormed. They were just learning sewing. After a couple of hours, I noticed one of the ladies had a scrunchy in her pony tail. I asked about them making scrunchies. It was a good place to start with them, and it was a way they could see progress. I ordered 500 scrunchies. It took quite a few years to sell them all, but meanwhile, we worked with the group on other products, quality, and how to maintain a group. With the help of Dalesburg Lutheran in Vermillion, we helped build a sewing center and a weaving center. The women are now pretty self-supporting. There are still some issues once in a while with this group, but over time they were able to help sustain their families.
Yes, it took twenty years. Twenty years of going to the mountains in overcrowded buses and having the women come to our office, often times traveling six hours each way. The main thing was not giving up.
Sharing the Dream is about dreams. Dreams that the individuals we work with have for themselves and their families. They want to be able to feed, educate and take care of their children. For me, fair trade means sharing those dreams and working with them to fulfill them. I love this quote by William Yeats. “But I, being poor have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” As a fair trade organization we need to tread softy and be open to the dreams of the people we work with in Guatemala.
Help to support people's dreams for themselves and their families by purchasing fair trade. Celebrate Fair Trade Month with us by saving 10% off your total order in our online store using the coupon code FTMonth at checkout. Offer is valid only in the online store.
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala
Diane Nesselhuf is Sharing the Dream in Guatemala's director and founder.