Exploring lore, land, and life in Lima

Photo credit: Chris Ritter

The New York Times has referred to Roberto Bolano, a Chilean native, as the most significant Latin American literary voice of his generation. Having recently traveled to Latin America for the first time, I found this quote from his book, 2666, echoing within my thoughts…

“Every hundred feet the world changes.”

There is something surreal about exploring a new culture, tasting unique foods, and engaging in a conversation with someone from the other side of the world. The sights and sounds are fresh and exciting but I believe the changes he refers to are more significant than the varied landscapes; I believe he is referencing a change that occurs within oneself.

I felt that change seep into me as I traveled to Lima to document a design training with our artisan partner, Intercrafts Peru and a professional designer, Jamie Hayes, who volunteered her time. I was given an opportunity to challenge myself, explore, and share these experiences. Instead of pasting a page from my travel journal or posting some of the 1000’s of photos I took, I thought it might be nice to share my ‘Top Three,’ a brief list of the inspirations I encountered on my trip….

  1. The diversity of Lima. Lima has witnessed and withstood violent war, extreme poverty, and destructive earthquakes to become the capitol of Peru, home to almost 1/3 of the Peruvian population. The vibrant culture reflects the migration of people from the rural highlands to the cities’ newly formed ‘shanty-towns.’

    The view from Juan Vargas’ knitting workshop in central Lima.
  2. The warmth… and I don’t mean the sun. The people I met in Peru were more than welcoming. The design workshops were often held in an artisan’s home and it was always a family affair filled with love. Children ran in and out of the room flashing their brightest smile, mothers baked their world-famous treats and set out tea to get us through the long hours, and gifts were exchanged as a way to share their passion with the world.

    Jamie Hayes (far left), Ruth De la Cruz (far right), and the talented artisans of Tika Rumi Jewelry cooperative.
  3. The work. I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of handcrafts during my time at SERRV. I have always held deep respect for the people whose hands crafts these incredible pieces and have admired the time and energy it takes to bring them to market but this experience opened my eyes. Our artisan partners run workshops out of their homes, often in marginalized areas with little access to tools, materials, education, and reliable infrastructure. Every thing they own and every opportunity they’ve been presented with is due to the work of their own hands.

    The hands and the work on renowned reverse-painted glass artisan, Edmundo Contreras.

This list goes on… but I think it is important for us to stop and think about the millions of little things we have come to take for granted in our society. When you buy fair trade you are encouraging hard working families, increasing education, encouraging women, and empowering communities to create a better and more just future.

To learn more about our partners from Peru and to see their incredible artwork, please visit the Peru page on our website. If you’d like to see more photos from this trip or learn more about our work in fair trade, check out our Facebook page.

Creamy Camino Hot Chocolate

We here at SERRV love a comforting cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, and sometimes even in the afternoons when we’re hard at work in the office. Camino, a Canadian cooperative supporting 35,000 family farmers in Central and South America as well as Southeast Asia, makes a few delicious fair trade organic hot chocolate mixes that you can serve up in minutes. While these mixes are great on their own, you can make your cup extra delicious with this simple recipe!
camino hot chocolate
Creamy Vanilla Hot Chocolate
  • 14 oz milk or coconut water
  • 5 Tbs Camino Milk Hot Chocolate mix
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Add everything to a saucepan and heat. Makes one cup each for you and a friend!

In Memory

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

It is with deep sadness that SERRV remembers and honors Nelson Mandela. He has been an inspiration to people all around the world and especially in the developing world.

Former South Africa President Mandela was a life-long fighter against racism, poverty, inequality, and the apartheid system which enslaved 80% of the South African population for half a century. Known to his own people as “Tata” (father in Xhosa), he led his country from dictatorship to democracy in a peaceful revolution that has proved to be an example to the whole world.

We are left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for his leadership and vision. May his legacy live on through our own actions, in the hopes of achieving a more just future for us all.

What do you know about the business behind your coffee?

Reposted with permission from our friends at the Fair Trade Federation:

Photo courtesy of Higher Grounds.
Photo courtesy of Higher Grounds.

Coffee lovers are more interested in supporting fair trade than ever before, but it can be confusing to know which companies are really walking the walk. The good news is that these fully fair trade brands exist and are doing the most inspiring work with farmers—work that ultimately yields the best quality coffee and creates bright futures for all in the supply chain.

While buying fair trade certified coffee is a good start to supporting fair pay and workplace protection, keep in mind that good business across borders is about so much more than wages and safety. A coffee brand’s attitude about relationships reveals more about their values than a certification alone can capture.

When looking more critically at a coffee brand’s approach to fair trade, there are key practices to watch out for that demonstrate a full fair trade commitment, a genuine interest in sustaining farming communities, and assurance that your dollars back the kind of business you want to support.

A primary goal of enriching farmers and communities

The most impactful fair trade coffee brands have one main goal that drives their business: to make sure the lives of the farmers they work with are actually improved by their partnership.

Organic coffee roaster Dean’s Beans in Orange, MA was founded as an experiment on this very idea—“to see if business could be a force for positive social change,” says Michael Skillicorn, who oversees farmer relations at Dean’s Beans. “This means that we have to be 100% dedicated to the values of trade justice. When we practice fair trade, we are all in—we don’t operate with one set of values for one part of our business and then operate with another set of values for the other.”

These values include forming mutually beneficial relationships with cooperatives that extend beyond basic business exchanges and encourage growth for farmers—prioritizing community development, fair wages, and better access to markets with fewer middle men. This is a rare practice in the coffee industry, where brands don’t often work directly with farmers and tend to hold an unfair majority of the decision-making and price-setting power.

“We stick with it because it seems the experiment is working,” says Skillicorn. “We’ve been able—for 20 years now—to build and maintain relationships with farmer cooperatives, trade equitably with them, and develop small-scale grassroots development projects in the farming communities.”

Emphasis on transparency

When forming stable partnerships, transparency is a necessary part of making sure neither side of the supply chain is harmed or deceived—including coffee drinkers who care about where their coffee is coming from.

For Cooperative Coffees—a green coffee importing cooperative that supplies roasters all over the country—transparency is the key to what makes their business work so well. ”Fair trade networks like the Fair Trade Federation, the World Fair Trade Organization, or FLO place transparency as a crucial point on the list of essential fair trade standards,” says Monika Firl, Communications and Projects Manager at Cooperative Coffees.

Co-op Coffees even utilizes an online system that tracks every order they make with cooperatives. With this system, buyers and coffee drinkers alike can look up how much coffee has been purchased and what was paid for each batch. “This kind of transparency allows for a true partnership based on trust,” says Firl. “This is the foundation of our business and our commitment to fair trade.”

An interest in helping farmers to build financial and economic growth

Organizations that say they focus on capacity building want independence for their partners and progress in poverty alleviation.

“Capacity building means growers can eventually produce greater yields and higher quality coffee. This way they are not dependent on us to purchase their coffee, but they can sell more of it to anyone for a good price,” says Kim Lamberty, President at Just Haiti Coffee.

Capacity building strengthens a cooperative’s leadership and organizational skills, she continues, so that the group contributes to civil society. “A strong civil society leads to a stronger democracy… this approach has effects way beyond just coffee.”

The cooperative is then able market their coffee—both locally and for export—so that they create a thriving domestic market that creates local jobs. “This leads to overall economic improvement in the areas where we work. It’s a long-term plan that will help to reduce poverty. Band aid solutions and charitable assistance don’t actually address the root causes of poverty the way capacity building does.”

Respect for the environment

When a business grows, so does its impact on local and global environments. Part of what doing good business means is taking steps towards reducing that impact in long term.

Peace Coffee in Minneapolis, MN takes a unique approach to reducing their footprint by making all of their coffee deliveries by bicycle. “We just visited the PANGOA Cooperative in Peru,” says Sam Timmreck, one of the “Bean Pedalers” at Peace Coffee in Minneapolis, MN. “I saw all the work farmers put in to growing their coffee. It’s a lot of hand labor and it’s a lot of stewardship of their farms and the land.”

Bike delivery is Peace Coffee’s way of applying that same stewardship to their own community. “By cutting down on driving, we’re using practical, small-scale skills and tools to get the job done. And it’s way more fun for us!”

Creating a force for change by educating coffee drinkers

Of course, none of these initiatives work well unless shoppers understand the value of fully fair trade businesses and look for brands that create real relationships. This is where education plays a key role in developing a market for products.

Equal Exchange has practiced fair trade for 27 years—investing a lot into “removing the walls that separate people from the folks who grow their food,” says Rodney North, “The Answer Man” at Equal Exchange. “A huge part of this effort has been in sharing stories from the farming communities around the world. Between our website and our blog there are literally hundreds of stories, articles, profiles, and interviews with thousands of farmers we work with in over 25 countries.”

Removing this veil is important if fair trade is going to grow. “Fair trade is not, and never has been, just about what price was paid to a farmer,” North continues. “That is only one element… As long as that veil remains, people will remain unaware of the serious social and ecological corners that are cut to keep food artificially cheap. Through education we remove that barrier. When folks know more they care more—and when they care more, their behavior changes. This is how progress can be made.”

SERRV partner Just Coffee is a member of Cooperative Coffees with an emphasis on transparency.

Message from the Philippines

A response from Fr. Shay Cullen with SERRV partner Preda in response to the donation we sent this week for their relief efforts:

This is really  great and generous. We are moving already and are fielding  social workers and an education team  to  develop  awareness, monitor the evacuation centers and set up  a hot line for reports of missing children lost and found.


I flew into Cebu City, an hours flight from Manila and drove with two Preda staff starting 3 am to visit the northern towns of Cebu Island on Tuesday, 19 November. The goal was to reach Daanbantayan, Bogo,and Bantayan Island  to assess the storm damage, visit their communities and understand the situation so as to know what the needs are and to deliver aid donations directly  to the people in need. The other equally important goal is to spread awareness about the need to protect orphaned children from would-be abductors and traffickers posing as relatives.

After two hours driving, we entered the disaster zone and the glimmer of lights in the houses disappeared and we drove in total darkness brought on by the typhoon Haiyan. It is a total blackout and power lines are down everywhere.  The moon gave an eerie sense of isolation. The remains of houses stood silhouetted and gave the appearance of a war-torn, bombed-out battle field. These were once home to over a thousand families and are now a scene of desolation and ruin. As the dawn light touched the horizon, the specter of devastation became all the more apparent and I began to realize that I was witnessing storm destruction and personal loss to millions of people. Recovery will take many years.

As the sun rose, I saw a bleak landscape of toppled power poles, once proud towering Acacia trees stripped naked of branches and leaves shamefully naked in dark outline against the dawn sky. Hundreds of tough coconut trees snapped off mid section, a rare sight of these typhoon hardened trees yet cut in half by a wind that reached unprecedented gusts of 240 kilometers an hour. Mango trees were toppled, their roots upturned to the sky, totally vanquished the remaining leaves dead. I was appalled at the extent of the destruction; only the strongest houses of the rich were left standing. I felt awe that all this could be done in the space of two to three hours as the ferocious wind and rain storm swept over the land alike a scythe in a field of barley cutting down all before it.

I have been through ferocious typhoons during my 44 years in the Philippines but have never seen or experienced anything like this for the sheer savagery of this destructive force of nature. The gigantic force of the wind churned and turned everything it could to flying debris, smashing and tearing at everything, ripping roofs apart and carrying the metal sheets, rafters and roofs into the sky with such force that even cinder block walls collapsed before the onslaught.

Then we arrived at Daanbantayan and were surrounded by wreckage. We met people, listened to the survivors with compassion and were awed as they recounted their terrible ordeal fearing it was the end of the world and were in the jaws of a devouring monster.

The survivors told me that the coconuts were ripped from the palm tops and fired like cannon balls smashing into roofs and walls. Their children were frightened and cried as the wind screamed and howled about them and the noise of debris smashing into the trees and roofs was terrifying there; food supplies were destroyed, and the water wells contaminated.

We then drove to the ferry and took a one hour sea crossing to Bantayan island. There, we landed at Santa Fe, and witnessed more damage and destruction of homes and businesses. The churches had roof damage, yet the greatest damage was in the main town of Bantayan and the coastal area. We took a tricycle and went there. Along the way, we could see more damaged homes and buildings. The poultry industry was wiped out.

We met the Mayor and were impressed with the fast clean up, order and discipline in the town. “We saved many lives”, he said, “we ordered a forced evacuation of the fishing villages, the fisher folk were unwilling at first but then they agreed and were saved. We have had only 16 dead but many were injured, they lost their fishing boats”.

The following day back in Cebu, we witnessed the resilience, courage and bravery of the many Filipinos that are rising above the tragedy. We met Anna and Jose in an evacuation center in Cebu. Jose is positive, hopeful and holding his new born baby that arrived during the evacuation flight. But Anna was sad and forlorn thinking of her missing father lost in Tacloban and likely dead. They put on a brave smile but underneath there was deep sadness. We discussed with officials the need to seek out unattached or orphaned children and document and register all especially orphaned children. We will send Preda social workers there to continue this work in all the evacuation centers.

The relief work goes on.  Preda has donated rice and other goods to the victims and is working with the University of San Carlos, Cebu to deliver relief aid to the many victims. We thank the donors who are contributing to this work. Preda is also building awareness to protect orphaned children at risk. Every help is welcome.

A Welcoming Community

By Jamie Hayes, volunteer designer

Wang Pin Fen
Wang Pin Fen

I was so touched by the hospitality of Wang Pin Fen. The town of Jigaize, where Threads’ embroidery center is located, is so tiny that it has no restaurants or cafes. So everyday at lunch time, we would walk to Wang Pin Fen’s home, and she would feed us delicious meals fresh from the family’s farm. She would always apologize for the “humble” food. And I would always try to explain the concept of “farm-to-table” cuisine, and that in fact, food fresh from the farm is a rare and luxurious treat for most urban dwellers in the U.S.

Additionally, our lunch times gave me the opportunity to meet Wang Pin Fen’s entire family and to hear their story, and how the opportunity to work at Threads of Yunnan had changed their lives. Not only does Wang Pin Fen embroider for Threads, she also manages the embroidery facility one day/week, and make sure that the center is clean and welcoming to everyone in the community. At one point, her husband was ill and ended up getting a ride to the clinic (about a 20 min car ride from Jigaize) in Threads’ van.

It was amazing to see how Threads and the community of Jigaize continually pulled together to make beautiful embroideries, create living wage jobs, and help each other in a million other small ways that are hard to quantify like rides to the clinic and preparing and sharing food.

Designing Impact in Rural China

Threads of Yunan“…I began to realize the incredible dedication, determination, and resourcefulness of the Threads of Yunnan team. I learned from Threads to keep things in perspective, to keep a positive attitude, and to look for resourceful solutions. ” – Jamie Hayes, volunteer designer

As the only World Fair Trade Organization member in the country, SERRV partner Threads of Yunnan provides vital employment opportunities to ethnic women in the isolated Yunnan region. Their embroidery project creates income in an area lacking fairly paid, dignified work, especially for women.

Threads of YunanHistorically, Yunnan has been viewed as atypical within China because of its distance from the capital and large population of ethnic minorities. Minorities currently comprise 33% of the province’s 46 million people and Yunnan has the most impoverished counties as well as the lowest literacy rate in all of China. Many of the women who work with Threads of Yunnan have never attended school. By working with small-scale artisans, Threads of Yunnan improves the lives of ethnic minority women while also preserving their cultural traditions and raising their self-esteem. Of the 280 artisans they employ, many have doubled or even tripled their family income, which was often less than $1 per day.

Threads of YunanFair wages help to prevent economic migration and allow Threads of Yunnan artisans to pay school fees for their children and invest in their family’s future, greatly increasing their children’s chances to survive and thrive. In addition to financial benefits, the women receive training in literacy, hygiene, and nutrition. Traditional embroidery is Threads of Yunnan’s core handcraft, but because they do not currently have a designer on staff they have lacked new product designs which resulted in a drop in international sales.

In order to improve Threads of Yunnan’s product line, SERRV sent volunteer designer Jamie Hayes to work on new styles and sample development with them.

Cross StitchJamie shared, “I was especially excited to develop new products for the Miao embroiderers. Their traditional cross-stitch is beautiful, but because it is typically worked on a certain type of cloth, the types of designs that they made were limited. I worked with them to develop new styles using the embroideries as appliques. I also encouraged them to try cross-stitch on some of the beautiful hemp cloth available in the region. At first the whole group cried, “It can’t be done!” Then one brave embroiderer stepped up and said, “I’ll try.” She did an excellent job and inspired the rest of her team to jump in, too.”

Jamie Hayes
Jamie Hayes with Threads of Yunan artisans

Jamie wanted to design products that upheld a delicate balance between preserving the cultural heritage of the embroiderers and incorporating current American design trends. During her six week stay with Threads of Yunnan, she created several new product patterns, including two handbags, several accessories, and two Christmas tree skirts. By the end of the trip, they had developed almost 50 new samples!

With some of their new products debuting in our holiday catalog, we are excited about the accomplishments of Jamie and Threads of Yunnan. While our orders from Threads of Yunnan had recently dwindled to one product, now we proudly feature six of their crafts in our catalog. Increased sales of their handcrafts will be used to purchase new sewing machines and provide school scholarships for local children.


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