I love to travel. I love to experience how people in different parts of the world live. I love to try new foods. I especially love trying to speak the language and see how far I can carry out a conversation before the native speaker decides that their rudimentary English is better than my broken Italian (or German or Spanish….I do alright in French speaking countries ;). But this summer, there will be no exotic traveling for me. In fact, there will be no non-exotic traveling for me. Instead, as I recover from foot surgery, I declare this the summer of Armchair Travel.
Last November I went to a village outside of Ensenada Mexico with a group of Idahoans to build a house for a family who was living in desperate conditions. This was my second Yugo Ministries mission trip to that area and, just like my first time there, I was overwhelmed and saddened by the poverty and poor living conditions: stray dogs and trash everywhere, homes made out whatever materials available, bumpy dirt roads and life covered in rusted dust. There are simply no words for the living conditions of people who inhabit the southern border of the United States. The people in the community are hard-working, loving and despite their living conditions, quite joyful.
There was one woman who ran the small village market on the top of the hill with her husband Marco. You knew Marco was nearby because he sang everywhere he went; first you’d hear the voice singing over the radio that was clipped to his backpack, then he would appear with a grin on his face and a song in his heart. They were the recipients of a Yugo house two years prior and it turned their life around. Candy said that the life-changing difference was having a house with a cement floor to sleep on instead of dirt. Cement. That seems so simple, and yet most people in her community continue to sleep on the dirt. Immediately after moving into their new home (which, by the way, still doesn’t include running water nor a bathroom), their daughter’s respiratory health improved and she and her husband were able to focus their energy on creating the tienda in order to serve their community. We were there just before Christmas, and Candy was putting together a list of all the children in the area to purchase gifts for. Most children wanted something simple like shoes, backpacks, or soccer balls. There were 55 children on her list and I don’t know if she was able to provide for them all, but something tells me that she found a way. Her heart is overflowing with generosity and love, which is the same spirit in which she received her cement-floored home. Candy’s family was given a gift of hope and now she wants to pay that hope forward to others. Her story will remain in my heart forever.
I worked alongside some truly loving and compassionate people last November; people who were committed to helping others and were not afraid to risk their own health by traveling to a third world country during the Pandemic. It was there that I heard about the untold splendor of Vietnam. That’s right, Vietnam. Like many Americans, the name Vietnam stirs up memories of civil unrest, the Viet Cong and poorly treated American soldiers. However, the stories that my fellow missionaries spoke of were of cities of lanterns, crystal blue waters, luscious green mountains and wonderful human beings. Before speaking to this couple, Vietnam was never on my travel list, which is strange because Thailand and Cambodia are (clearly there’s a negative perception that comes from being raised in a post-Vietnam war era). There is something in my soul that’s calling me to south Asia, and I’ll know what that is when I get there. But for now, during my summer of armchair travel, I want to introduce you to some women who, like Candy, are getting a second chance to create a better life for themselves and their families through dignified work with Trades of Hope.
Meet Tran Thi Ha.
She is a Vietnamese artisan who was taught as a young child how to crochet by her mother. Like many young Vietnamese girls, she did not have the opportunity to go to school and in her community there are not many jobs available to women. Through an artisan community in Vietnam, she was introduced to Trades of Hope, whose mission is to provide fair-trade jobs that empower women and people with difficult livelihoods to pursue their dreams. They encourage local villagers who are overcoming disabilities, homelessness, and extreme poverty to not simply become factory workers, but true artists. Like Candy, Tran Thi Ha was given a gift of hope. Unlike Candy, you can directly help Tran Thi Ha by purchasing her handcrafted crochet designs through Trades of Hope. In this case, it’s adorable hand-crocheted Faith the Flamingo.
Faith the Flamingo
Thailand & Cambodia
A friend of mine from college went to Thailand and Cambodia on her honeymoon, some twenty years ago. I remember being so astonished that they chose such an exotic place instead of the more commonly Western tropical locations. It peaked my curiosity, and when, upon their return, she showed me the stunning pictures of their travels, it moved to my top 5 places-to-experience list. South Asia is on my vision boards, so I know it’ll just be a matter of time before I can experience the splendor first hand. For now, I’m enjoying my armchair travel and noting all the places I want to be sure to visit, like the ancient overgrown temple Ta Prohm in Cambodia, pictured below.
Ya’s Story & Gift of HopeOne day someone flung a container of acid on my face. It burned my face and ran down my body. The excruciating extensive burns threatened to take my life for months, and since then I’ve had to endure numerous surgeries to attempt to re-make my features and face to be normal again. I now have to live with the scarring of my face and body, and also with the scarring on my heart. I’ve been the subject of mockery, hatred, rejection and curiosity, but rarely the subject of compassion or help.
I’m gradually trying to rebuild my life and to make a future for myself, but the only thing that gives me the courage to do that is that I know that I’m not alone, and that I may be able to do something to help others. I started this business to make goods by hand so that other women in my condition can earn their own living in safety and some measure of self-respect. —TOH, Songsa Bracelet
the beads Ya Handcrafted with integrity The Songsa Wrap Bracelet Ya, admiring her work
I can’t build a house for an impoverished family in Mexico this summer, nor can I fly to South Asia to meet the people and experience the cultures that are calling me towards them. But I can consider what I purchase and who I purchase it from. Every time we make a purchase, we are endorsing the manufacturing process, the working conditions, wages and treatment of the employees.
“In areas of extreme poverty, vulnerable workers – including women and children – are often exploited by sweatshops, a form of modern-day slavery and human trafficking that commonly includes forced labor, unreasonable hours, unsafe working conditions, and unfair pay. Trades of Hope commissions our jewelry to be handcrafted in safe workspaces, using environmentally responsible and ethically sourced materials, by Artisans over the age of sixteen-years-old who freely choose to earn fair wages, as Artisan partners.” TOH, on being socially and environmentally responsible company
Think about the people in your life who will be celebrating birthdays, unbirthdays, anniversaries and any other gift-giving occasion this summer and consider the impact of your purchase. We can conveniently choose to purchase a trinket from a mass produced factory overseas where employees are commonly treated inhumanely or we can intentionally purchase a hand-crafted gift from an artisan who is lifting themselves out of the circumstances that have been holding them down. In the Boise area, we have several stores that only sell fair trade goods, such Dunia Marketplace on 13th or Eye of the World Imports on the corner of 16th and West Grove. During the summer you can find handcrafted items from our refugees at the Summer Market or online through Artisans of Hope. If you don’t live in the Boise area, you can find fair trade brick and mortar stores near you by clicking on this Ethical Shopping Guide. Or you can purchase through me with Trades of Hope and with each purchase the recipient will receive a beautiful hand-crafted item (jewelry, home goods and more) along with a card about the artisan, their country and the circumstances that they’re overcoming. If you’re going to purchase a gift anyway, why not purchase with compassion and offer someone in a distant part of the world the gift of hope?
I am Light by India Arie
My former dance instructor and kindred spirit shared this song by India Arie with me the last time we were together. I’ve placed it on my “healing” playlist and cannot think of a better song to accompany this post. We can shine some light around the world, right from the comforts of our armchair. I have faith that you’ll consider where and how to use the power of your purchases and join me in this call of hope for humanity. You can learn more about Trades of Hope and all the artisans who partner with them by visiting my Compassionate Entrepreneur web-page: https://tradesofhope.com/strongspirit. Thank you for traveling with me today; I sincerely hope that you enjoyed the virtual journey and would love to know which places are on your Top 5 places-to-experience list! Namaste.