Ten Thousand Villages Returns to Abbotsford!

MCC Bangladesh Women making soap: Many graduates of Pobitra are employed by Sacred Mark, an MCC job creation program to produce hand-made soap, which is sold through Ten Thousand Villages stores. (MCC photo: Silas Crews)

It is the idea of giving back that motivates Martha Janzen to volunteer at the Ten Thousand Villages Sale held at Emmanuel Mennonite Church each Christmas.

Ten Thousand Villages stores provide vital, fair income to third world artisans by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America. This income helps pay for food, education, health care and housing. Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the relief, development and peace agency of Mennonite churches in North America.

Martha is passionate about the way in which Ten Thousand Villages enables people to come out of situations of poverty. The store sells products from more than 30 countries, providing work for nearly 60,000 people around the world. In Bangladesh, Ten Thousand Villages works with Pobitra, an MCC job training program for former sex workers.

Sharmin (not her real name) was married at age 12 to a man twice her age. Her happy childhood became a distant memory after she gave birth to a small, sickly son a year later. His medical treatment cost them all their savings. By the time her son was 3 years old, she had a daughter as well and her husband fell ill. When he was released from hospital he could no longer work and the family went hungry. When the rent came due and they couldn’t pay, the landlord forced Sharmin to pay with her body. She was 15. It was the beginning of years of sex work that paid for her family’s food and housing.

Now, Sharmin has found a new start through Pobitra – a word that can be interpreted as “holiness, sanctity, the fresh cleanliness of a newborn.” To be part of Pobitra women must commit to leave sex work. In exchange, they are given a basic salary and a yearlong training program that gives them personal skills and job skills needed to support their families. Graduates make soap for Sacred Mark (an MCC job creation program) or help develop other products to sell. It is stories like these that compel Martha and others to volunteer with Ten Thousand Villages, selling their products and bringing their stories to light. You can read Sharmin’s story and that of other women helped by Pobitra.  The Ten Thousand Villages Christmas sale at Emmanuel Mennonite Church will sell Sacred Mark soap and other products made by artisans from Bangladesh – as well products from other countries around the world.

MCC Bangladesh Women cutting soap: Women work together to make soap at Sacred Mark, an MCC job creation program in Bangladesh. These hand-made soaps are sold around the world, including Ten Thousand Villages stores in North America. For more information visit tenthousandvillages.ca (MCC photo: Silas Crews)

Angelika Dawson, who also volunteers at the church sale, loves the philosophy of Ten Thousand Villages.

“It’s not just a hand-out, it’s a hand up,” she says. “It’s showing people respect, giving them back their dignity. Not only that, but they are creating great stuff!”

Angelika loves the fact that each item is hand-made and unique rather than mass-produced and adds that there are a variety of items at a variety of prices.

“There’s lots of great stocking stuffers for under $10 and so many things that will make great gifts. We hope many people will come and check it out,” she says.

Let your purchase make a difference this year when you shop at the Ten Thousand Village Christmas store at Emmanuel Mennonite Church, 3471 Clearbrook Road (at Blueridge) December 4-8, from 10-5 pm daily, open late December 5th and December 7th from 10 am – 9 pm.

For more information see Ten Thousand Villages and Mennonite Central Committee