Amazing Friends of Amazing Friends

Fair Trade brings like minded people around the world together.  Sometimes it is through the short business chain of producers, importing partners and retailers.  Sometimes, as in this case, it is through friends of friends of friends.  

When we first moved back to Kansas almost four years ago I was told by numerous people that I should meet Summer Lewis.  Summer is from Manhattan, Kansas, and that anyone would think we are alike is a major complement to me.  She has worked for Equal Exchange, the Asian University for Women and is now a consultant on international development projects, with a focus on coffee and gender.  She's lived more than half her life abroad and currently resides in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Check out her consulting company for a major boost.

From our friends in common, Summer and I became facebook friends.  She kindly shared something about our store and one of her friends from her time at the Asian University for Women took note.  Summer introduced us; one in Kansas and the other in Bangladesh.

I have never met Summer or our now common friend Azmina Karim in person, but I know that I admire and respect these ladies.  They are each talented go-getters, I tell you.  

Azmina speaking at Harvard University with Connecther.  Harvard is connected with the Film Festival.   

Azmina speaking at Harvard University with Connecther.  Harvard is connected with the Film Festival.   

Azmina works as a program director for Connecther which is an organization focused on projects by and for women in oppressed places.  This is not a post about Fair Trade, actually, but about a woman who is empowering other women in the same places where many of our products originate.
 
Azmina’s English is amazing as you can read for yourself in this blog post that she has shared with us.  

Enjoy, friends, and thanks for being interested in what we find compelling ~ Amy Kay


Every single time I have attended a photo exhibition or art exhibition or film fest, I remember my utmost desperation to find a female name underneath the photo credit or the artwork. Visual art is a highly flexible tool that crosses cultural and linguistic barriers, and can be adapted to all abilities. Its power lies in its dual role as both art form and way to record facts. Despite such advantages women in our society do not have much of an access to describe realities, communicate perspectives, and raise awareness of social and global issues. 

Performance art is predominantly male dominated in a society like ours. Why wont it be like that? In a society where, there was an urge to reduce the age limit to marry off girls, girls do not have freedom and resources to get education or they usually don’t have a voice in the society, it is a dream to think women can come to this field. A field which is open to curve your own path. I cannot stop myself from imagining a society where we get to hear women telling us story about our culture, society, reporting us back on whats happening around them.

It is not too difficult to imagine that, especially when you see so much untapped potential around you.  A vision of a world in which everybody has the opportunity to represent themselves and tell their own story led me inspired to start of this fundraising.

Since 2013 as I started working closely with Connecther, every year I have witnessed and watched some incredibly well captured films. These films capture how women’s life is affected by war, urges of girls who wants to continue their education despite all the hardship they have to go through, the concept of beauty in girls eye, how sports can empower women, lives of sex workers working in brothel in Bangladesh (shared here).

A film focusing on the difficulties of street based sex workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, produced by a student from Asian University for Women.

When you see such powerful representation of storylines and stories, you must be thinking what is stopping these stories to come out, why don’t we get to see or hear it more often that this.

One answer is lack of resources and accessibility of these resources by girls in our society to enhance and nurture their skills. Past few months I have been relentlessly working to reach out to people so we can raise some money to buy few cameras to give out to the students of Asian University for Women to assist the students make more wonderful films. These films made by our students portray issues like gender discrimination, violence against women, child rights, achievement of women, women empowerment and many more such crucial matters. 

The Asian University for Women is an institution founded with a mission to provide an internationally recognized undergraduate program for women. The institution is geared towards empowering the new generation to strive towards higher education, and seeks to create critical thinkers who will be passionate and committed to their country and people.

Students eagerly learning in their film making class.

Students eagerly learning in their film making class.

Currently, there is a high level of interest by students at AUW in film studies. In particular, many students are passionate about using filmmaking and photography to bring to light social issues. These projects would allow students to work on films that deal with issues of social and environmental concern around the world and to use the opportunity to share their ideas and innovations.These films and photographs portray real life stories and scenarios of Asian region.

With your help we can reach to people overseas and make them aware of the issues and achievements of Asian women and at the same time would be able to reach our cause of support these talented young women. 

Your one initiative may lead to raising awareness and helping these young women to achieve something greater. Currently, I am working to raise $300 so we can reach our goal of buying two camera by the end of May, to have those equipments up for grab and let student work during summer. Please join us in this great initiative. 

~Azmina Karim studied at the University for Peace for a masters in Gender and Peace Building.  She has three sisters, six nieces and nephews, and parents whom she loves.  

Kansas

A couple of weeks ago Carri and I were glad to get to attend the Fair Trade Federation conference in Louisville, Kentucky.  I could ramble on and on about this annual gathering of motivated people, but just one thing for today: many of our new friends were surprised that we have Fair Trade stores in Kansas.  They would really raise their eyebrows when they found out the size of the towns in which we get to have stores.  (One gal said that her town of 300,000 was too small to support a Fair Trade store.)

Now, granted, we aren’t really making it yet.  The bank is helping us through until we are hopefully sustained, but I didn’t think twice about having Fair Trade in Kansas!  There are good people everywhere who want to support good things!  There are people of 'The Book' everywhere who understand Fair Trade as God’s way of doing business.  There are people everywhere who are mindful of our planet who want to support businesses who are also mindful.  There are people everywhere who appreciate other cultures, who celebrate the arts, who drink good coffee and who wear becoming clothing. 

This might not be new news, but Kansas is a state that is so red that we make national and international news when there is an election that is even somewhat close for a Democratic challenger.  I wonder if this contributes to the surprise that we have Fair Trade stores in Kansas - as if being a Republican is mutually exclusive from being a person who supports fair payment and treatment of poor people.  One would need to look no further than my extended family to see solid Republicans who support Fair Trade.  They are farmers, for goodness sakes!  They want other farmers to get paid fairly for their crops.  It's not that surprising.  

Of course Kansas needs Fair Trade stores just like Fair Trade artisans and farmers need for there to be stores in Kansas.

This weekend a few of us in Lindsborg got to have supper with Christine Connell who is an attorney and has a wildly popular Instagram account for her adventure travels.  We were excited to hear about all things Instagram, but Christine might feel more comfortable alone in the beautiful outdoors than with five people staring at her excitedly and peppering her with questions.  So, we turned the tables and told her all about we love about Lindsborg and Kansas!  I suppose I/we went on and on and perhaps others had too because it made it into her blog post about her weekend in our state! ;) 

It is awesome to get to live in Kansas. 

oooh beautiful downtown, Lindsborg

oooh beautiful downtown, Lindsborg

Today I’m tired-as-all-get-out and the boys don’t have school so we’re just lounging around our little Lindsborg main street.  It's quite amazing.  We’re two doors away from Jim and Kathy Richardson at Small World Gallery.  Jim is a very talented and successful (!) National Geographic photographer.  (Just a couple of years ago Jim was voted the best of the NatGeo photographers by his peers.) Kathy sources amazing materials with which she and her colleague Brianna make jewelry.  Small World is special.  It's the only gallery of a National Geographic photographer in the nation and it's in this little town of 3500.  These two take time to chat, they volunteer, they are extremely generous, witty, thoughtful and positive.  They could have chosen to live anywhere in the world and they chose Lindsborg.  That's something.

Look at these two fun people!  Outward bound in an airport, but took a second to snap a picture for me ;)  Seriously gotta love Jim and Kathy Richardson!

Look at these two fun people!  Outward bound in an airport, but took a second to snap a picture for me ;)  Seriously gotta love Jim and Kathy Richardson!

We are caddy-corner from Tara Killingsworth at The Ivory Thimble who just celebrated one year in business on Saturday.  She's an apparel designer and worked in California previously.  She's young and cool.  She could have chosen to stay there or take her extraordinary talent anywhere else.  She chose to be in Lindsborg.  Isn’t it amazing?

This is truly how I found Tara this afternoon when I popped in to apologize for missing her anniversary celebration.  (I was covering for a sick co-worker - I promise that I wasn't just slacking.)  Tara's 'sew' good and what she does! 

This is truly how I found Tara this afternoon when I popped in to apologize for missing her anniversary celebration.  (I was covering for a sick co-worker - I promise that I wasn't just slacking.)  Tara's 'sew' good and what she does! 

I could go on and on about our other neighbors in Lindsborg and then have more to tell about neighbors in Salina and Manhattan. 

Kansas is full of genuine, authentic, good people.  There are curmudgeons here and there of course, but no more than anywhere else. 

We have awesome art.  We have beautiful skies.  We have interesting people who are truthful and good to their core.  Here people care about one another and show it in many and varied ways.  We have Fair Trade stores.  For all of this, we give thanks.

Out of Order

There was a day when we would cross stitch sweet sayings or scriptures and frame them or make them into pillows. (I’ve also done wheat weaving in case you need further evidence of my age and regional placement.)  Now we might paint on pallets or create a quip in an app to post our favorites. 

Sometimes there were lace edges involved.

Sometimes there were lace edges involved.

Perhaps you kept up with the “nevertheless, she persisted” happenings in the Senate a couple of weeks ago.  Here’s a brief synopsis if you’d like one:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (white Democratic woman) attempted to read a letter into record of the Senate on Feb. 7 that Coretta Scott King, the widow of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote 30 years ago opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship.  (Sessions was being considered for our United States Attorney General appointment.)  Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked Rule 19 to block Sen. Warren from further reading the letter because it spoke poorly against a fellow senator.  She had to be quiet during the rest of the session.  Later Sen McConnell said, "Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."  (Sessions is now the Attorney General.)

The "nevertheless, she persisted" statement, coupled with the fact that two of Warren's male counterparts read from the letter uninterrupted earlier in the process, instantly struck a chord with many.  “Hey now!  Why was she silenced when those guys weren't?!”  Hashtags flew, t-shirts were made, etsy creations were listed and tattoos were inked.  I’m betting some pallets were painted upon.
 

Chelsea Brink sits ready to be inked with "she persisted"   Photo by Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune.

A wise friend and Professor of History in Illinois, Jenny Barker-Devine, posted this reflection on the Rule 19 explanation:   “We focus on the ‘nevertheless she persisted,’ part of Mitch McConnell's comments, but I keep going back to ‘She was given an explanation.’ That's the heart of it. Most of us don't persist, but we remember vividly the moments of explanation.”

This, my friends, is what has been working the edges of my mind for a couple of weeks.  In only a few instances do I vividly remember moments of explanation.  I'm betting that I've been given more than a few because I'm a rather liberal type of gal and have been since my earliest memories; but, I was also a rule follower and have respected people in authority.  I probably haven’t questioned when I’ve been given The Explanation!  I bet I just accepted and moved on.  Not good.

J.B. Handelsman created this helpful cartoon 1986.  I'd love to see remakes of it in today's context.  Some might say it would be the same, I suppose.  

Here’s the worst realization: I’ve probably given The Explanation!  For the same reasons that I’ve accepted The Explanation without question, I’ve probably given it because I’ve valued order... even when cultural norms and biases were unjust.  I’ve probably felt like I’ve had the authority and right to do so.  Lord, have mercy… Jesus had a lot to say about stuff like this and still I’ve been slothing along with blinders in place.  shoosh

Perhaps you can relate?

We can know in our heads that human nature, the way our minds work, slant us to want the comfortable, expected, ordered in life, but that doesn’t make it okay.  

What would happen if we human thinkers let ourselves be uncomfortable more often, I wonder?  Would we be able to recognize when we are being given or are giving The Explanation?  Would we be able to pause and think about what really is more attuned with God’s way than our own comfortable ways?  

On Thursday I was able to work alongside Jaliyah Brown, a senior at Kansas State University in Apparel Marketing.  One of Jaliyah’s interest is marketing through social media and she took time to patiently school me in Instagram and Snapchat.  As I was hunched over my phone looking at her Instagram account I noticed “black girl magic” with some little yellow diamond thingies in her description.  I had been asking all kinds of 40 year old ignorant social media questions for over an hour, so this felt no different. I looked up at her and asked, “What is black girl magic? I mean, why is it black? Is it an actual thing?”  I swear that I was just that awkward.  In my head what I was asking was if it was a titled movement among black women.  (I’m white, in case that hasn’t been made obvious.)  Jaliyah giggled.  I understood that it wasn't a formal movement and bent back over my screen to continue asking questions about social media.  (“Why is the snapchat logo a white Shrek head, anyway?  Oh, it’s a ghost?”)

During my drive home I thought back over the day and realized only then that I might have sounded like I didn’t know why Jaliyah had noted the color of her skin.  Later we texted a bit and though I was still very awkward, she graciously responded that she understood what I had meant and was just glad I asked.  She wisely noted that some people just put their own assumptions on things they aren’t familiar with and that isn’t good… and that she is always open to answer questions.  What a wonderful response.  

Just to fully illustrate what awkward looks like...

It’s a little thing, this exchange, but I swear that these are the awkward moments that help me recognize my blind spots.  I pray these moments help me see The Explanations more often for what they are.  Perhaps you share in this prayer.

It would be awesome to be conditioned to think more about how and why we think the way we do.  The world would be more just; there would be less poverty.  

This is why we have such a lengthy post from a Fair Trade company, by the way.  For instance, I don’t think we would buy half of the big box store clothes we buy if we would think about the conditions in the sweatshops that the people endured making the clothing.  We would buy fairly traded clothing and take care of it so it would stay beautiful for a long time.  The planet would be better off too for that matter.  With thoughtfulness, we make better decisions all the way around.  

Here’s to always becoming more informed, thinking, being less comfortable and aligning ourselves with what is just for the good of everyone and everything. May it be so.   

(Found a pallet craft on etsy by MrsSBarefootStudio;)

(Found a pallet craft on etsy by MrsSBarefootStudio;)

...and now I need to try to remember how Jaliyah taught me to post this to twitter...

Sand, Dancing and Keeping On

Kansas has gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.  (…although I only see the sunsets, admittingly.  I rely on Taton Tubbs’ amazing photos to see the sunrises.)  

Taton's view from First Street in Lindsborg, Kansas, on Feburary 1, 2017.

The landscapes in Kansas are beautiful.  I love to look at oak tree lines during the winters.  

Every day I get to walk past fun shops’ windows and captivating public art.  I spend my days in our stores which are filled with interesting things from all around the world.  

Our boys love music and often demonstrate fantastic dance moves.  It makes me smile to think of them being silly… and how they react to my husband and me when we join in the dancing.  (I’ve got some great step-touch, chicken-wing moves.)

An evening in which I get to cook is among my favorite times.  The smell of banana nut bread baking lingers longer in the winter when the windows are closed tightly against the cold.  

There is much to appreciate.

A friend, Marv Anderson, shared this cartoon recently by David Sipress:

I can identify with this gal!  Perhaps you can too.  

There is so much going on in our country and world that I feel overwhelmed sometimes as I try to keep up and respond.  Perhaps you've felt this way also.

The thing is, I'm a Christian and as one who claims to follow Jesus, I know that I must continue trying.  I can't stick my head in the sand and wait for everything I feel is at odds with God’s way to pass me by.  I need to be engaged and work for God’s will to be known ‘on earth as it is in heaven’… perhaps we share this prayer. If we don't recite these same words, we probably still share this conclusion from our various ways of understanding life.

We must keep reading, listening, talking, and learning.  We must keep supporting, resisting, celebrating, marching, giving, calling and, for some of us, praying.  We must keep loving.

I’m extremely thankful we can advocate for what we think is right and at the very same time appreciate the beauty of the world and delightful people in it. There would be no way to notice the wonderful if our heads were stuck in the sand. 

From time to time maybe we could build a sand castle though...  When we start feeling overwhelmed, playing in the sand and not sticking our heads in it seems like a most responsible idea.  I like to enjoy sunsets, soak in the beauty around me, have a drink and dance around the kitchen to "Can't Stop The Feeling" while my kids laugh.  Whatever we need to do, let's do it and keep on, friends.

May we be well informed, engaged, sane and appreciative people.  I think it is possible with God.  May it be so.