© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Grace Mennonite Church pastor Ryan Siemens holds up a candleholder made from an old bicycle chain on Thursday at the Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale. Offering fair trade handicrafts from around the world, the sale is taking place at the church on Thursday and Friday from noon to 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Ten Thousand Villages Festival Sale has returned to Prince Albert this week with a wide range of fair trade products.
From coffee to jewelry to household items, all proceeds from the merchandise go directly to the artisans around the world who make the products.
“All the products are fair trade items -- fairly traded meaning that people get a living wage for their product,” pastor Ryan Siemens said. “In that way they’re able to support their community development and so forth.”
This year’s sale will take place at Grace Mennonite Church on Thursday and Friday from noon to 8 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The event is strongly rooted in the history of the Mennonite Church, which began organizing fair trade programs (then known as “self-help”) as far back as 1953.
Though Grace Mennonite Church has been holding the sales since the 1960s, for the last decade they have partnered with Calvary United Church to host the event due to renovations at their own building.
With the sale’s return to Grace this year, church members are once again at the centre of an event they see as an embodiment of their spiritual beliefs.
“At the core of our faith is human dignity and honouring human dignity,” Siemens said.
“Spirituality isn’t some little private thing in the corner that you do by yourself. It’s about all of life, and so it’s treating people with respect and dignity and honouring the work that they do.”
For the church, part of that concept involves paying a fair wage to people for the work that they do.
Siemens pointed to the importance of raising awareness of the deplorable conditions faced by many overseas workers used as cheap labour by major corporations.
He cited the April collapse of a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which resulted in 1,129 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries.
“All of us were sort of shocked when the whole factory crashed in Bangladesh,” Siemens said. “And then we all saw Joe Fresh clothing there and it’s like, ‘Oh, that stuff’s on my kid.’”
All the products are fair trade items -- fairly traded meaning that people get a living wage for their product. Rev. Ryan Siemens
“Fair trade tries to turn the tide on that,” he added. “By giving a fair wage to the artisans, they’re then able to support their family, they support their communities, do economic development.”
Proponents of fair trade argue that it empowers women, protects the environment and workers’ rights, and allows artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East to build sustainable communities.
As a means of selling fair trade goods, the Festival Sales are organized by local volunteers. The Ten Thousand Villages company, meanwhile, handles marketing and finding the actual products.
While the main Ten Thousand Village stores are located in Saskatoon and Regina, outlying communities across the province specialize in the Festival Sales.
“The Prince Albert one is actually the biggest one in Saskatchewan,” Siemens said, noting that the P.A. sale usually earns $13,000-15,000 over its three days.
The pastor expressed his hope that the sale would help bring fair trade principles to the attention of consumers as the holiday shopping season gets underway.
“It is to get us thinking,” Siemens said. “As we’re going into the Christmas rush where everyone’s like ‘Let’s get the rock bottom price for everything,’ this … tries to give some consciousness to raise awareness.”
“We know we won’t turn a massive tide,” he added. “But if you actually research it, you’d be surprised to see how far the fair trade industry has actually grown.”