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This article by Henry Innes MacAdam were prepared for the December

20, 2000 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

It Takes More than a Village

When Hillary Rodham Clinton gave her book on child

welfare the title "It Takes a Village," she helped popularized

an ancient and widely practiced tenet of African culture: "It

takes a village to raise a child." There and in many developing

nations, villages are still the fundamental social unit of community

life, its populace always ready to protect and support the youngest

members.

Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East are among

such regions where the livelihood of its villagers may be dependent

on their ability to create and market traditional handicrafts.

That’s where Ten Thousand Villages makes a difference in the lives

of individuals who may not have heard of a shopping mall or know what

a retail store is.

"We’re a traditional handicrafts outlet," says store manager

Cheryl Nester Detweiler, manager of Ten Thousand Villages in the

Princeton

Shopping Center at 301 North Harrison Street. "Our company is

the largest alternative trade organization in the U.S. It was founded

after World War II as an outlet for handicrafts produced in what were

then called `Third World Countries.’ We sell their products throughout

North America, and the income helps them establish and maintain a

better lifestyle than they might otherwise have."

Princeton’s Ten Thousand Villages is one of 200 stores in Canada and

the United States, one of two in New Jersey (the other is in

Haddonfield).

This time of year it is decked out in its wintertime finery, its

windows

decorated with beautiful icicle-like garlands made from nothing more

complicated than straw.

The shop is packed with visitors, and Detweiler is happy to point

out items on her own shelves that she deems special in one way or

another. These include handmade angels and carved Nativity scenes

for Christmas, Chanukah Menorahs and draydls, and greeting cards for

both celebrations. Baskets, textiles, and candles are here in

abundance.

Detweiler thinks the store’s musical instrument collection is

especially

interesting.

"We put 12 of these instruments on display at Plainsboro’s recent

`Traditions’ event," she says. "Children and adults are

encouraged

to pick up and try the instruments — this is very much a

`hands-on’

store. How else can you get to know how to make very different music?

It lets you participate, even for a moment, in the culture of the

creative person who fashioned the drum or horn or whatever other

instrument

catches your eye. There is a very personal aspect to everything we

sell."

Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit program founded and developed

by the Mennonite Central Committee (based in rural Lancaster County,

Pennsylvania), the relief, service, and development agency of

Mennonite

and Brethren in Christ churches in North America. By marketing native,

traditional craftwork made of local materials such as wood, straw,

ceramics, cloth, shell, and bone those who buy from Ten Thousand

Villages

are assured of purchasing quality items at fair prices, and in the

knowledge that the artisans will receive their share of the profit.

Mennonites are among the earliest of the dissident Protestant

Anabaptist

sects that emigrated from German-speaking regions of Europe to America

in the 18th century. Followers of Menno Simons, they settled in

Lancaster

County, Pennsylvania, and eventually separated from their stricter,

more conservative brethren, the Amish. Mennonites emphasize the

concept

of a "community of believers," which means marrying within

their faith, dressing plainly, and refusing the binds of legal oaths.

Since, like the Quakers, Mennonites are pacifists, they avoid military

service but compensate by advocating alternative community work. This

is why volunteerism is so strong a conviction within the faith, also

part of the reason its clergy receive no salary. "Volunteering

is an expression of religious faith, and has become, over the years,

a basic part of the Mennonite work ethic," Detweiler explains.

Detweiler and her husband Daniel, a computer programmer

at Princeton University, moved to this area in early 1999 when the

store space (formerly Chesapeake Bagels) at Princeton Shopping Center

became available. The couple is expecting their first child later

this month. "It was my idea to come here, and Dan really gave

me his full support without having a job lined up for himself,"

she recalls. "Luckily I had visited Princeton on several occasions

in the past, so the area wasn’t entirely unfamiliar."

Detweiler is a native of Goshen, Indiana, near South Bend, the center

of the Mennonite confession in that state. She grew up in a

close-knit,

church-centered Mennonite community.

Her father Jerry (from Kansas) and mother Jane (from Ohio) met while

doing volunteer work in Philadelphia, married, and then moved to

Goshen,

where he had graduated from college, in the late 1960s. "Dad and

mom are still in Goshen; he teaches high school math, and she works

for a Mennonite health insurance company."

Detweiler is the oldest of three sisters, one of whom lives in

Virginia

and the other in Ohio. "I went through the public school system

until the end of my sophomore year," she says, "but I finished

the last two years and graduated from a Mennonite school." This

was followed by two years at a junior college in Kansas, and

eventually

graduation with a B.S. in business administration from Eastern

Mennonite

College in Virginia.

During her college years, Detweiler worked for a volunteer relief

organization helping the homeless in Ocean City, Maryland. "That

gave me some sense of direction in life — I knew then I would

want to work with people, but more from the business end than being

`in the field’ as a sociologist."

After graduation, Detweiler took on yet more volunteer work in a

low-income

housing project in Nashville, Tennessee, then returned to Goshen.

"I met Dan at a summer youth retreat in Michigan. He was a

computer

programmer for an insurance company in Illinois, but was able to find

work in Goshen when we married in 1994."

It wasn’t long before both newlyweds were looking for volunteer work.

"We applied to a number of Mennonite organizations. It was

difficult,

because it’s far easier for an agency to get a single person into

a volunteer job than it is to place a couple. Finally the Ten Thousand

Villages headquarters in Lancaster notified Dan that they needed a

computer programmer." That was summer, 1995.

"All they could promise me at first was a part-time position in

data entry, but I moved to customer service after the beginning of

the new year."

Over the next four years the Detweilers learned much of what Ten

Thousand

Villages does — its founding philosophy, its network of agencies

throughout the world, and its program of expansion into community

retail stores throughout North America.

"Dan and I worked at what are called `service workers.’ We

received

minimum wages for the work we did, plus semi-subsidized housing and

medical benefits. In the end, with the cost of maintaining a car,

we just broke even each year. Those conditions are simply the way

non-profits can maintain their status and provide their services,"

she says.

"In 1998, sales through our North American retail stores and gift

festivals totaled $15 million," says Detweiler. "Fair trade

with Ten Thousand Villages benefited some 60,000 craftspeople from

32 countries."

Ten Thousand Villages began in 1946 in response to the needs of

refugee

women in various parts of the world. "It was the idea of a

remarkable

woman, Edna Ruth Byler, of Akron, Pennsylvania," says Detweiler.

That year Byler had visited Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)

volunteers

who were teaching sewing classes in Puerto Rico. "She saw a way

to improve the lives of those women and their families, many of whom

were extremely poor." Byler brought home samples of the needlework

to sell to her friends and neighbors.

It was soon evident that such handicrafts were popular. Byler added

cross-stitch embroidery made by Palestinian refugees as well as

hand-carved

Haitian woodwork to her informal inventory. From her own neighborhood

she expanded sales to other nearby towns, often using the trunk of

her car as a retail outlet. She made sure that craft fairs and church

socials offered these handmade items to customers. Her own basement

became a warehouse for the imported goods.

By the early 1970s Bylers’ one-person, home-based project had become

an official program run by the MCC under its original trade name,

Selfhelp Crafts. By 1980 MCC had established 60 stores in the U.S.

and Canada; an abandoned shoe factory in Akron, Pennsylvania, was

renovated as its headquarters and warehouse. MCC established another

national headquarters in New Hamburg, Ontario, for its Canadian

outlets.

Now known as Ten Thousand Villages, craftspeople around the world

contribute to this entrepreneurial adventure. One example is Njah-etuh

village not far from Bamenda in the West African nation of Cameroon.

There a woman’s group of 63 members weave traditional raffia baskets

and bags in bright colors, their only source of cash income. The

Shuktara

(or "Morning Star") Handmade Paper Project in Feni,

Bangladesh,

on the northeastern border of India, makes an array of paper products,

some of which is used in the printing of Ten Thousand Village’s own

promotional materials.

"Widowed, divorced and abandoned women, who were considered social

outcasts, were taught papermaking skills by MCC," Detweiler notes.

"Papermaking revived a craft on the verge of extinction. Now 150

women and 20 men are employed in paper production in a village. That

started in 1984. Two years later, in the same country, Eastern Screen

Printers got started and now employs 17 people — all of whom might

otherwise be out of work."

Through its worldwide networking, Ten Thousand Villages home office

contacts artisans from villages where the jobless rate is high and

opportunities for income of any kind is low. "We find out from

the artisans what they feel is a fair price for the products they

make. We’ll give them up to 50 percent of that agreed amount in

advance

so that they can purchase the needed materials without an expensive

loan at whatever local rates of interest. Sometimes that `start-up’

money is absolutely critical to the whole process," says

Detweiler.

Village artisans receive 25 percent of the final product price. If

an item such as an onyx candlestick (from Mexico or Pakistan), or

some decorative capiz shell (Philippines), or embroidered wall

hangings

(Peru) or a musical instrument called a balophone (Burkina Faso in

Africa) is sold for $20, the artisan who created it receives $5.

"Ten Thousand Villages pays for shipping these items to our

central

warehouses (near Lancaster), and then transshipping them to the

individual

outlets," says Detweiler. "The sales price differential then

goes to wages for paid employees, overhead and other business

expenses."

"Our head office pays the artisans the other 50 percent of the

agreed price at the time their order is shipped to the U.S. or Canada

— we don’t make them wait until it is sold. The whole point of

what we do is creating an income for disadvantaged craftspersons

without

a huge gap between the creation of the product and the income it will

generate. Further income for them is based on how much we can

sell."

"What won’t `move’ in one store are sent to another store,"

she adds. "We like to think that eventually everything we showcase

will be sold."

With the exception of Detweiler, who receives a small salary,

assistant

manager Jennifer Hoke, and sales associate Ingrid Pauls, all the staff

of Ten Thousand Villages are volunteers. For the month of December

each year, Detweiler also hires one high school student to work

part-time.

"When Dan and I moved here to start this store, it was Nassau

Presbyterian Church that provided the local support we needed, and

some members of the congregation work with us as volunteers,"

she adds.

"I know it sounds like we have an unfair business advantage,"

she says. "The `up’ side of that is it keeps our prices down,

allowing us to sell more, and thereby giving the village artisans

more work, and more income. The `down’ side is that volunteers set

their own working hours and we have more rapid turnover as our staff

comes and goes as it suits them."

"Some volunteers work only eight hours per month, which is the

minimum set by Ten Thousand Villages. But very few work on or near

a full-time basis. So it’s not like having a stable staff or employees

who work on a regular, fixed schedule."

In some ways Cheryl Detweiler’s store is a village fair in itself,

with an "extended family" of staff and volunteers committed

to marketing what other individuals and families have created in their

faraway homes.

— Henry Innes MacAdam

Ten Thousand Villages, Princeton Shopping Center,

609-683-4464;

www.tenthousandvillages.com. E-mail: villagesprinceton@juno.com.


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