Frequently Asked Questions
What is Ten Thousand Villages?
Ten Thousand Villages is a marketing organization that sells handicrafts from "Third World" countries through its network of 43 stores in Canada, 115 in the US, and through 300 annual Festival Sales in Canada (100+) and the US (200+).
It is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a relief and development organization working around the world. Ten Thousand Villages has its roots in the work begun by Edna Ruth Byler in 1946.
Where does everything come from and who made it?
Products sold by Ten Thousand Villages come from 30 countries around the world, countries considered to be "Third World" or "underdeveloped".
We buy from more than 130 different groups of artisans and reach thousands of individual people. About 70% of the artisans are single mothers. Some artisan groups also seek to employ persons with physical disabilities.
Ten Thousand Villages intentionally looks to work with people who are unemployed or severely under-employed. Products sold by Ten Thousand Villages do not come from large factories but are made in small group settings or in homes where artisans can also manage household responsibilities or farm work.
We are concerned that the environment in which our artisans work is clean and healthy and materials used for production are not harmful to the artisan or the environment
How is a "fair wage" determined?
Ten Thousand Villages talks with the artisans themselves. They also talk with other organizations that are working in that country. We also learn what other persons in the community earn - farm workers, construction workers, teachers, etc. It is our goal that a person's income enables her/him to pay for food, clothing, housing, children's education and medical care.
How much money does Ten Thousand Villages send back to the artisan?
NONE! Before placing an order, Ten Thousand Villages establishes what the artisan group considers to be a fair price for the item.
When placing the order, half of the purchase price is sent with the order. This allows artisans to purchase the raw materials needed and to pay wages during production.
Upon completion of the order, the remainder of the purchase price is paid before the order leaves the country. Orders are paid in full before they arrive in our warehouse.
How do we find these artisans and products?
Ten Thousand Villages is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC www.mcc.org), a relief and development organization with contacts in 50 countries around the world.
More than 500 MCC workers live and work in 40 developing countries. In many cases these MCC'ers introduce us to artisans. Sometimes contacts come through other church groups or through the International Federation of Alternative Trade (IFAT www.ifat.org). IFAT is a 200-member fair trade organization to which Ten Thousand Villages belongs.
Regular visits and financial statements help us to ensure accountability. We do not ask any of the groups we buy from to sell exclusively to us, nor do we have exclusive contracts on any products.
We continually focus on trading with communities with the greatest needs.
How are we different from Pier One® or other importers?
Our principle is People First / Product Second. We deliberately go looking for people who have little or no marketing connections. In some cases, we buy from artisans who have never made anything they could sell before. We first encourage the artisans to make whatever they can from raw materials they have available locally. As we work together, products and artisans increase in sophistication.
We worked with Allpa (a group of artisans making ceramic pieces in Peru) for 5 or 6 years before helping them attend the New York Gift Show. Pier One learned about Allpa at the gift show and has placed orders with them since then.
Is everything really handmade?
Items are made in home workshops or yards. Stone workers use power tools but items are still made one at a time. Textiles are woven on handlooms rather than on power looms. In the case of the papyrus cards from Egypt, cards are printed by a silkscreen process, then individually hand-painted. Being individually made, products are not always identical.
Why aren't there any products from the impoverished in Canada?
Our mandate is to work with poor artisans in developing countries. In developing countries, governments do not have social assistance programs to help the unemployed or disabled. Any person in Canada probably has better possibilities of accessing the market than a person on the other side of the world. The poorest person in Canada is generally better off than the typical person in Bangladesh, for example.
Who does a Festival Sale benefit?
It is Ten Thousand Villages' intention that the artisans who make the products we sell are also the ones who benefit from our sales. No local Canadian organizations benefit from a Festival Sale. Each sale is run by volunteers.
Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit, self-supporting organization. We do not raise funds for other MCC programs, nor do we receive donations from MCC. We have no shareholders to pay. We are grateful for the many volunteers who gladly work on behalf of world neighbours they will never meet.
I thought this was a Mennonite Sale. Where are the quilts and cookbooks?
Part of our Mennonite tradition and heritage teaches us that we should be wiling to share with those less fortunate than ourselves. An early Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons (ca. 1496-1561), from whom the Mennonites get their name, wrote these words:
True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant,
It clothes the naked,
It feeds the hungry,
It comforts the sorrowful,
It shelters the destitute,
It serves those that harm it,
It binds up that which is wounded,
It has become all things to all men.
~Menno Simons, 1539
We believe that our Ten Thousand Villages program is one way to put our faith into action. A way to clothe and feed some of the neediest people in our world.