Fair Trade – It Takes a Village

During our trip to Peru we were able to visit with four of the artisan groups we work with: with Bridge of Hope we met with Llamcay Tuki (carved gourds), El Mercurio (knitted animals and finger puppets), and Munay Rumi (sterling silver jewelry). We also met with the group that carves Huamanga Stone from Manos Amigas. The meetings were a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about recent growth and changes in the groups, see new product designs, understand their challenges, and talk about ways to further develop our partnerships. They also demonstrated how they make their products, and I will forever be amazing as the skill, artistry, and resourcefulness of these artisans.

Each time a group from Partners for Just Trade or the Joining Hands network visits our artisan partners, we learn more about what it means to come together as a loving community, to persevere and be forward thinking, and to be connected with the earth in a profound way. The groups shared with us what they have learned through their work with their fair trade cooperatives. Their life mottos include: “don’t look back and keep looking forward”, “perseverance and future thinking”, and “there is no bad situation, because every situation can help us learn and grow”.

We also hear more stories about how individual members and the groups as a whole have overcome obstacles and challenges through applying Fair Trade principles and engaging with Fair Trade marketplaces. Many of them worked in situations where they worked too many hours, weren’t paid fair wages, and weren’t able to be there for their children and families. Many of them also either only had a basic knowledge or no knowledge of their handiwork craft. The artisans are better role models for their children and canengage in a better education for their children.

The artisans have grown personally, many of the artisans explained to us that before being a part of their cooperative they were timid, quiet, and weren’t able to stand up for themselves. Now, they know their rights and they are outspoken and defend themselves and members of their community against unfair or abusive treatment. They are leaders and mentors in their families and their communities.

For three of the people in our Joining Hands group, it was their first time meeting our artisan partners in person. We loved having them as part of our group because they brought a fresh perspective to our work and our partnership. After our meeting with the artisan groups, one of these new group members reflected, “For me to be able to be there and hand my money directly to the person who made my product was a really cool experience.”

The artisans also explained to us the meaning of many of the designs in their products and how they uphold important cultural values and their respect for the earth. For example, in Andean beliefs, the hummingbird is seen as a messenger and a connection between the heavens and earth. Owls are a sign of goodwill, wisdom and protection. The snake, puma, and condor represent the three levels of spirituality: the underworld, or death, the middle world, or life on earth, and the upper world, or the heavens. The artisans also use as many natural and organic materials as is available to maintain sustainability and avoid contaminants.

Not only are we able to see the the sisterhoods and the family-feel of the cooperatives during these visits, but we are able to build an authentic and tangible relationship with them as well, building stronger bridges and breaking down barriers. We are able to see what an environmentally conscious and caring business can look like, and we are inspired by the strength, hope, and passion of our partners.

David and Goliath

The scenic drive to the Usibamba farming community outside of Huancayo demonstrated the maintenance of ancestral Andean farming practices. This indigenous community has autonomous ownership of its communal lands, which extend into the highlands where there are springs and lagoons that are headwaters to the river. Joining Hands and one of its partner organizations, CEDEPAS, met with community leaders to strategize on how to deal with a nearby mining company and the government concerning a recent breach in the mining waste pit that is contaminating the community’s water with arsenic. These farmers graze their animals and drink from these waters, and recently all the trout died in their lagoon and all the frogs in the area have died out because of the contamination. Because the mining site is located at the top of the mountain and not located on the communal lands, the mining company does not take responsibility for the impact of contamination to their land, and the government is supporting the company, not the community. However, because of the location of the site, the waste travels down the mountainside into the water sources and is directly impacting the quality of the water and soil.

The community leaders are in the process of negotiating with the mining company.  Some leaders support the mining company because it wants to recruit local community membersto work, but other leaders don’t want to engage with the company because mining companies only provide temporary work, not meaningful employment, and the contamination from the sites does not align with their culture of caring for the land and being self-sustaining.  A professor in the community gave us a tour of their school—he teaches technology and environmental education. The school’s environmental care efforts include onsite composting, a greenhouse to grow vegetables and medicinal plants, and plastic recycling. In Usibamba, their livelihood is through farming and livestock, and mining adversely impacts this way of life. The community members know they need to stand united and be organized so as not to be torn apart by external influences.   

Peruvians continually fight against corruption on multiple fronts. This professor told us about a recent event where a policeman asked for a bribe of 100 soles from a community member.  When he offered 10 instead, the policeman arrested the community member, and the police officer’s lawyer forced the man to write a false confession. 2,000 citizens in this village of 5,000 showed up at his hearing. The community member was convicted, and police beat his disabled father when he attempted to block them from taking his son to jail. A village woman grabbed police and said we are going to die together” because of this corruption. Her bravery sparked a wave of protesting from the villagers, even the judge’s wife was protesting.  Not long after, the villager was freed. This event showed the community that when they unite together, they have power! 

In the afternoon we visited the CEDEPAS office in Huancayo.  They have been an NGO for 35 years, with grants from international organizations such as Bread for the World,which fund agriculture project like native seeds, greenhouses, and organic agriculture. Their work is centered around holistic wellbeing and development for families and communities. They are an important source of support for communities like Usibamba, where educate and advocate for the community member’s rights, maintaining important cultural values and agricultural practices, and integrating new technology that helps the community improve its health and strength as they face these difficult battles.

Heroes of the Earth – part 2

In the second half of our day in La Oroya we met with a group called Filomena. This group was created in the 1980s as the founders began to notice the hardships that the wives of miners were facing in the mining camps. The group started its work through addressing the rights of these women and their children. The directors explained that in the 1990s many miners were being laid off or not being paid for their work, and the people began to do “Sacrificial Marches” to raise awareness of the injustices they were facing. During one of the marches, a woman named Filomena was pregnant and gave birth. The baby survived but the mother did not. The organization took on the name “Filomena” as a tribute to all of the people whose lives have been sacrificed in the fight for justice and human rights.

Also during this time, the community was able to begin to see the effects of the mining contamination, especially on the children. In part 1 of Heroes is the Earth, we touch on the smelter company Doe Run and the site in La Oroya. Filomena began working with women and children to provide education, health care, and food. During this process, the community members have taught themselves about their basic human rights, how to organize and advocate successfully, and how to care for the environment.

The group has been able to grow and raise more funding and support through making connections with the Joining Hands network and with the catholic and evangelical churches in Peru. These organizations have worked together to negotiate with Doe Run and the Peruvian government to create better, safer environmental regulations and policies and to bring more awareness to the critical situation and human rights violations in this region.

During our meeting with them, a group of teenagers that make up the Youth Environmentalists from four surrounding towns came to present their work to us. They presented on how they are teaching their peers, parents, and communities to take better care of the environment and to be more conscious of the impact their lifestyles have on the earth. It was inspiring to see this group of youth so passionate and driven to make positive change in their communities. The directors of Filomena told us that they have seen change and improvement over the years that they have been working with the organization, and they see their story and their successes being reflected across the country, so they don’t lose hope and they won’t stop fighting for the rights of the people and the land.

Heroes of the Earth -part 1

On our third day in Peru, we met with an incredible group of people who live in Sun Town, which is an extension of the city called La Oroya. La Oroya is one of the ten most contaminated cities in the world because of the presence of a mining company called Doe Run, which began a smelter operation in the 1990s. Entire mountainsides have been devastated by acid rain and dust containing heavy metals, so for two decades the people of the community haven’t been able to grow their own food. Joining Hands, a SLU Public Health professor, and active citizens came together to expose the contamination of people and environment. The smelter “closed” in 2009 because Doe Run filed bankruptcy for the site. The site is now under the control of a Board of Creditors, made up of the State and other private interests, and has been kept functioning in the hopes that another company will buy it. As a result, contamination is still being released at a steady rate.

In the midst of this critical situation, members of the community have come together to stand up for their rights and to take their lives and their community back into their own hands. One of these amazing groups is the Conservation Committee, which is partnered with the Joining Hands network. The Conservation Committee has been leading the reforestation efforts in the community to bring back life to the area. Through this project, the committee has planted approximately 32,000 trees since 1996! They have also rebuilt terraces and water reservoirs on the mountain side replicating the ancient Andean agricultural technology. These efforts have helped to retain water in the soil so that more plants and wildlife can begin to thrive on the mountainsides well.

Through creating this regenerated environmental health, important insects, birds, fungi, and plants have been growing again. The morale and health of the committee and members of the community are strengthened continually, and their hope for the future has not diminished. Their dream is to be able to begin planting crops and caring for their flocks and herds again, create a healthier environment and future for their children and future generations, and create a space where people from all over can go to be rejuvenated and healed mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. They have been changing the perspectives of the community members-shifting from a life of extraction and contamination to a life of regeneration and wellbeing.

We heard an unforgettable story from the leader of the committee, an 83 year old woman named Victoria. She explained to us that before her work with the committee she was very sick. She couldn’t spend more than a few moments out of bed, she was weak and her family believed she was in the last stage of her life until she learned about the progress of the committee. She decided she needed to be involved. So the first day she walked to the reforestation area, a few steps at a time, she knew she was meant to do this work. Her health gradually improved, and she has grown and led the committee since it’s beginning!

The sun in this photo is the Sun Monument, which was placed in the now forest as a sign of light and hope and as a representation of the power and the gift of the sun on our lives.

Light on Reality

“La vida no se vende, la vida se defiende.”

Our second day in Peru we met with our partners in the Joining Hands network in Peru, who are working to understand the root causes of poverty in the country and to address the issues of environmental contamination through mining. The quote above, which means “Life is not for sale, life it to be defended” comes from the people in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru, where the the indigenous communities are fighting for land rights and the majority of the public are fighting to protect the land from deforestation and extraction.

This fight is reflected in the mountains and across the country. The Peruvian government considers mining and extraction to be the most important industries for growing the country’s economy. As a result, they are increasing the number of sites across the country, and there are increasing health issues in the communities around these sites. However, the government is not taking appropriate action to clean the resulting contamination and is leaving large parts of the country in devastation. Additionally, the income from mining is concentrated in specific areas of the country to boost tourism and keep up appearances instead of being distributed to the people to provide basic needs such as potable water, electricity, and clean communities. This is a reflection of the political corruption in Peru.

We address these issues in work our with our artisan partners. The artisan groups across Peru have come together in solidarity to support each other in their work to show respect and love for the earth and their resources. These artisans groups have been affected by the contamination and destruction of the land from mining and by climate change issues in Peru. These groups are advocating for their communities and for the land through their work. Expressions of their connection to the earth are exhibited in their artwork. For example, gourd birdhouses and ornaments display owls that are considered a sign of good will, protection, and wisdom.

The Joining Hands network calls for a re-evaluation of values and for empathy and connection to one another around the world. If people continue to not address climate change and environmental devastation, “the earth will swallow up humanity in order to heal.”

Resilience and Gracious Hospitality

Our first day in Peru began with waking up at 3 a.m. to the feeling of the earthquake that hit the Amazon Rainforest shaking the earth all the way to our beds in Lima, signaling that our adventure had begun! In the morning we visited a church called Kilometer 13.  (Many churches in Lima are named by their kilometer marker.) The mural on the side of the building greeted us with a beautifully portrayed depiction of the history of the country from the coastline to the Andes mountains to the Peruvian Rainforest. This mural was painted by all generations of the community to celebrate the richness and diversity of the Peruvian culture. 


As we walked into the church, we were welcomed by people we had connected with on past trips to Peru with open arms and smiling faces!  The morning passed with many hugs, laughter, and friendship. They prepared a traditional Peruvian lunch (causa rellena, estofado de pollo, and chicha morada) that we shared together with the leaders of the church (a mixture of men and women). Over lunch they conveyed issues they are confronting in Peru, highlighting that their top priority was gender equality.  Violence against women has become all too prevalent in Peru, and law is not being enforced adequately. There is an initiative by the government to include gender equality in the public educational curriculum, but conservative groups are pushing back against the implementation of this change.  Through joining hands with our partners in Peru, we identified more commonalities than differences.  Their issues of gender equality, access to a good education, equal representation, domestic violence and homophobia have parallels to our reality in the United States and globally.  


One example of how the church is driving to change attitudes towards equality of women is through the youth programs.  The youth of the church worked through theater to depict the issue of domestic violence and encourage change.  They had resistance by some of the youth participants as well as adult viewers, but the youth felt strongly enough that their message needed to be told and they persevered.  Following the performance, they immediately left through the back of the stage, not wanting to face the audience for fear of disapproval.  However, church elders came back to congratulate and thank them.


The people in this congregation have come together to educate their community and support initiatives like the curriculum changes in an incredible way. In Peru, there is not much social support in health, education, or even basic needs such as potable water and electricity.  As a result, the people of this community through the church have united to identify and prioritize theproblems that need to be solved and to find and carry outsolutions.  Many people have heard the saying, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.”  These people are fishing and are inviting others to learn to fish in order to make positive change for themselves and for all of Peru.  They are inspiring role models for other communities across the world.  


Gearing up for Peru 2019

On May 25th Partners for Just Trade will be travelling to Peru to visit with our artisan partners and learn more about how we can continue to support them in their businesses and their fights against injustices and climate change in their communities. Our Executive Director, Alyson Miller, and two Board Members, Clarice Hutchens and Meg Krejci will be travelling alongside our partners in the Joining Hands Network. We will be posting updates about our artisan partners and valuable information and insights we learn during our trip. Thank you for your support of PJT’s work and for being a part of global change through Fair Trade and building bridges with partners across the world!

About PJT

Partners for Just Trade is committed to a holistic approach to fair trade. For us, it goes beyond ensuring fair wages and healthy, safe work conditions. It includes our long-term partnerships with artisans in Peru, Haiti, and Cambodia to help grow their businesses and strengthen their communities. You can be part of the change.

With this blog we will share about our visits to our artisan partners and education about fair trade, sustainability, and conscious consumerism.