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Volunteers learn to appreciate international artisans

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As Erica van Velsen and Cara Rempel (above) set up Ten Thousand Villages displays in communities around the East Coast, they see more than the beauty of the hand-crafted items they so carefully handle – they see the cooperation of talented artisans working together to provide a stable income for their families. They recognize that by volunteering for Ten Thousand Villages, they help artisan groups in many different countries earn fair income for their work.

Rempel, 18, of Winnipeg, and van Velsen, 21, of Waterloo, Ont., are the youngest volunteers in Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Service Opportunities for Older People (SOOP) – a short-term volunteer placement program for people of all ages.

The 40 Atlantic Festival Sales are held each fall in Atlantic Canada from September to December, hosted by local churches in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador. SOOP volunteers assist local volunteers with receiving items in the warehouse, transporting products to the sales, setting up displays, selling the products, and preparing for the next sale.

Working with the Atlantic Festival Sales has helped van Velsen develop an even greater interest in the personal stories of artisans and methods used to make the products. “We have so much to learn from them,” she said. “It’s not just one person making a livelihood – it’s a community working together and celebrating each others’ strengths.”

—Gladys Terichow for MCC

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