By Denis Grasska
SAN DIEGO (CNS) – After three years of working for Catholic Relief Services promoting the fair trade movement, Evangely Aliangan Ward decided she could do more.
So, in late 2010, she founded Around the World Gifts. Located in Old Town San Diego, nestled among an assortment of shops and restaurants, the gift shop sells only items that are certified “fair trade,” meaning that they were produced in an environmentally friendly manner by artisans and farmers in developing countries who received fair wages for their labor.
Faith and Business
For Evangely and her husband, Gerrit Ward, who manages the shop, Around the World Gifts is more than just a business.
“This is a ministry,” Evangely told The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of San Diego. “It’s a place where I can bring my faith and my beliefs. It’s a place (where) I know I’m making a difference.”
About 75 developing countries currently have fair trade cooperatives, and almost 50 of those countries are represented by products at Around the World.
“The theme of our store is gifts from all over the world, so we try to get things that are endemic to the culture of that particular region,” said Gerrit, noting that Indian artisans are known for woodworking with brass inlay and that soapstone carvings and items constructed from recycled plastic are commonly produced in Kenya.
He said, “The idea is that when you pick up items in our store … it should be indicative of their particular culture.”
The shop’s inventory includes home and garden decor, Nativity sets and other holiday items, chocolate, clothing, accessories such as jewelry, scarves, hats and belts, and even musical instruments, like pan flutes, recorders and whistles.
“We try to think of all members of the family” when placing orders with fair trade vendors, said Evangely, whose awareness of fair trade came about through her employment with CRS from 2007 to 2010. CRS is the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, and among its many projects, it is a strong proponent of the fair trade movement.
What is Fair Trade?
“When I learned what fair trade really is, it made sense,” she said. “To think of the artisans in developing countries, the children that are being worked when they should be in school; to think of the men and women that are working so hard and are treated so wrong, are not paid even a portion of what they deserve, what their working conditions are like.”
Fair trade cuts out the middleman, she said, explaining that the artisans and farmers are able to receive a larger percentage of the profit, reinvest in their business and bring about more opportunities within their community.
Old-Fashioned Foot Traffic
The store has benefited from the “steady foot traffic” of tourists in Old Town, said Evangely, whose shop also is part of the Fair Trade San Diego network and an exhibitor at events, including the San Diego diocesan Church Ministers Conference last September.
Many of the items sold at Around the World come with a tag with information about the group of artisans who made them – and some even have the name of the specific artist within that group.
Gerrit said the couple sees it as “part of our mission” to educate potential customers about fair trade.
He noted one of the distinguishing features of fair trade is that products can be easily traced back to the group that made them.
“That’s very liberating,” he said, “because in our current culture, most people have no idea where their stuff comes from. Sometimes, if they did, they wouldn’t be so happy about the purchase.”
Doing good by purchasing fair trade does not place a substantial financial burden on the consumer, either, Gerrit said, noting that fair trade-certified items often do not cost much more than their conventional counterparts, and sometimes cost the same or less.
“Every item here has a story,” said Evangely, who revealed that some customers had been reduced to tears and asked to hug her after hearing stories about some of the items on sale at the shop.
“We get excited about sharing,” she said of herself and Gerrit. “Even if people don’t buy … I love sharing and, with my ministry background” – she currently works at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in San Diego and for the pro-life organization Life Perspectives – “it allows me the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, do you know who made this? Do you know you’re helping them?’”
Evangely and Gerrit believe that, even now, five years in, they are still creating a market for fair trade products in San Diego. But, as she continues to spread the fair trade message, Evangely is convinced that supporting it is a no-brainer.
“Why should people buy fair trade?” she asked. “Because we all need to ensure that artisans and farmers are being treated justly, that they have opportunities.”
“It’s not charity to buy fair trade,” she added. “You’re not giving them a donation (that is) only going to last so long and it’s gone. You’re empowering them, you’re giving them that opportunity for self-sustainability.”