It takes a lot of faith to try and earn a living by making things by hand. Just ask anyone who is trying to do it, myself included. As a concept, that’s nothing new. But there are some who take their faith a step further and use it as a call to action to help those, who without the skills and opportunity to sell their handmades, might be left with no hope for the future. That’s the goal of Global Handmade Hope, a Fair Trade shop in Park Ridge, Illinois that is dedicated to promoting and selling crafts and goods made by the world’s underprivileged. I caught up with founder Cynthia Glensgard to learn more about her mission and how she got involved with such an undertaking.
“It’s actually pretty funny since my background has nothing to do with retail or fair trade. I have an Bachelors and MBA in Marketing. Previously, I’d worked for Fortune 500 companies in sales and sales management. One of my girlfriends, and previous sales reps, left the corporate world and started a non-profit called True Vineyard Ministries. While I donated financially, I remember actually telling my friend that I never had any desire to go to Africa.
“Then, I began to feel as if God was asking me to become more involved with the T.V.M. mission in Rwanda. So, I gave her a call and next thing I knew, after a ton of inoculations, I was on a mission trip to Rwanda six weeks later. Of course, I thought that this trip would be my one and only trip to Africa but since June of 2009, I’ve actually been there four times. I thought I understood what it meant to be a third world country and all the paroles that go along with that distinction. What I discovered is that my knowledge really only scratched the surface.
“I found myself wanting to help as many people as possible be able to provide food and shelter for their families. I kept posing the question to myself, ‘What is the best way to help?’ And I kept coming back to the conclusion that I needed to open a Fair Trade store. Global Handmade Hope was formed in an effort to help other missions all over the world by offering them a place and opportunity to sell their goods.”
The store is bright and colorful, and well-stocked with handmade goods ranging from toys to home decor, from handbags, textiles, and jewelry, to personal care items and food. “The majority of the products carried in the store come from artisans that I have direct relationships with through my mission trips to Rwanda and Kenya. In fact, I am beginning to exhibit at national wholesale trade shows in an effort to help these East African artisans reach more markets. It is my goal for the groups to be able to employ more people, which will allow for them to send more children to school which will, in turn, help break the cycle of poverty.”
The poverty Cynthia speaks passionately about is extreme in nature. Statistics show that 20% of the world’s population is forced to live on less than $1.00 a day. It is a de-humanizing, and crushing cycle that taking measures such as buying from Fair Trade shops helps to minimize, and hopefully, one day eradicate. “Any time you can shop fair trade it’s great. You are voting for justice and equality with the dollar you are spending. By shopping outlets like Global Handmade Hope we are telling the world that it is not okay to force people to live in poverty, work in sweat shops, and use child labor. We are saying, yes it is important for a family to eat and a child to go to school, things that we take for granted as our right here in the U.S. but that often doesn’t happen in third world countries. It’s funny, I heard a statement the other day that actually put another twist on fair trade, ‘We get all upset about the lead in toys that our children are exposed to, (which by the way we should), but, what about the child that was forced to paint that toy, and hundreds others, with lead-based paint?'”
For Cynthia, it’s her faith, and that of the people of True Vineyard Ministries, that fuels the passion to help others. But the help and involvement of all people, regardless of the source of their passion, is needed to continue and grow the mission, and the local community has stepped up to learn more and get involved.
“I feel fortunate to have found a way that I can help people. My work is meant to glorify God. On the days when things are rough, I am inspired by Matthew 19:26: ‘with God all things are possible.’ Also, a quick reflection on what life is like in these developing countries helps put me back on track and keep motivated. I realize not all people are in the same place with their spirituality. All people with humanitarian goals are welcome.
“We opened mid-November 2009 and the community has been very receptive. I love that people who know about fair trade stop in, and I especially enjoy when I can introduce the concept to someone new. It is so much fun to have someone express how beautiful and unique the items in the store are and then to be able to tell them about fair trade.”
And, in case any of us feel a need to go the extra mile, Cynthia also has good suggestions for ways to get more involved. “We would love the opportunity to speak at organized events about our mission. People have hosted home parties where we’ve spoken and brought goods for purchase. We also take people with us on our mission trips, so we just ask that you prayerfully consider this before signing up. Our mission is in need of $60,000 to build an environmentally-friendly, bio-gas facility that will turn composted cow manure into fuel. The fuel will be used to bake bread to be sold at the local markets, and to boil water to dye yarn. Organizing Penny Drives are great ways to help with this need. We are open to utilizing peoples talents and ideas.”
“Each day brings new things, all of which are wonderful. I am so moved when people open their hearts and offer help to spread the word about the store, fair trade, and of course True Vine Ministries.” I couldn’t agree with you more, Cynthia. Hope is always a good word to spread.
Global Handmade Hope, 428 W. Touhy Ave., Park Ridge, Illinois, USA
On The Web: http://globalhandmadehope.com