Store's international handicrafts delight children

August 08, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Each time we read about a country in the news or hear a missionary speak about the country they serve, we look at the world map that hangs on our playroom wall.

We find the location and imagine what life must be like there.

Is it close to the Equator? It must be hot. Perhaps they grow bananas there.

It's no wonder that my children were delighted recently when we stopped by Ten Thousand Villages on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown.

The nonprofit store offers fairly traded handicrafts from around the world.

"This one's from Indonesia," my 8-year-old said while taking aim at a ring toss.

His 4-year-old sister was just as eager to learn where the products were made.

"I bet these are from Africa, Mommy," she said, pointing to musical instruments.

Sure enough, some were handmade in Cameroon, South Africa and Kenya, among other nations.

The drums, rain sticks and maracas proved particularly popular.


"We have fun instruments," said Jean Peifer, chairperson of the local store's board. "They're great for Sunday School classes."

"We like kids to come in there," said Fran Martin, a former volunteer who assumed the store manager position in June.

The manager and assistant manager are paid employees. There are approximately 30 volunteers serving the local store.

"We're helping people in Third World countries. This way, they can have a half-way decent living," said volunteer Karen Kreymborg. "We're helping someone who's less fortunate."

Ten Thousand Villages buys the work of craftspeople who may otherwise not have a market for their products.

"As long as we can keep volunteers, we can give back to the artists," said Kreymborg, who volunteers at the store.

The Pennsylvania Avenue location has been open for about eight years, but Ten Thousand Villages products have been sold in the area since the late 1970s. There are nearly 150 stores in the United States and Canada.

"Some people like the idea that their money is not helping some rich people get richer," said Chris Henry, assistant store manager. "A lot of people are surprised because it is good quality stuff."

There are mobiles and baskets for baby showers, tablecloths for wedding gifts, safari theme home decor items and Nativity scenes from various countries.

"They make almost everything by hand, and it's just hard to fathom that," Martin said.

Many of the items are made from recycled materials.

Haitian craftsmen create metalworks from oil drums. Kenyan women make jewelry from recycled soda pop cans.

Ten Thousand Villages deals with artisans who respect the environment, Peifer said.

The organization also makes sure that artisans are paid a fair wage and that children are not exploited in the production process, Martin said.

"I just think it's a wonderful concept - rather than give people things, to help them have a sustainable way of living, and that's what this does," Peifer said.

It's important that children learn about the struggles of people in Third World countries, Henry said. "So they learn they're not in this world all by themselves.

Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit program of Mennonite Central Committee, the relief and development agency of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in North America. For information, go to on the Web. To learn about volunteering, call the local store at 301-797-3020.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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