On March 11-13 of this year, many jewelry artisans and their families benefited from a free eye clinic in New Delhi. This clinic was sponsored by Latitudes Fair Trade stores with funds raised from our generous customers and administered in partnership with fair trade wholesale partner Matr Boomie's non-profit organization, SETU.
These artisans create most of the jewelry pieces for Matr Boomie. The community consists mainly of families who have been practicing this craft for generations. Many artisans are either unaware about the importance of regular health care, or proper eye care is not accessible. As jewelry making requires attention to minute details, regular eye check-ups and proper eye care is essential for maintaining healthy eyes and a sustainable income.
SETU's preparations for the eye check up camp involved liaison and sending notification to health and CMO departments, making and distributing pamphlets and banners, door to door mobilization, informing and motivating various artisans and their families about the camp and its benefits, consulting and hiring doctors and their support staff, hiring opticians for preparing the eyeglasses, and purchasing optical frames and medicines.
A team of expert ophthalmologists were appointed for the camp. Eye specialists carried out routine eye checkups for the artisans. Participants were given a chance to select the eyeglass frames of their choice and they were quite happy with this, especially the women, who participated in the camp quite enthusiastically!
With a great positive response from the artisans on the first day of the clinic, word spread throughout the community and there was an overwhelming rush in the second and third days of the camp. The camps stretched non-stop till 9:30 pm in the evening!
About 238 artisans and their families received free eye exams, medicine, and general health check-ups and consultations. 214 received free eyeglasses. The artisans were most appreciative of the clinic, and to the customers of Latitudes that made it possible. Thank you!
Latitudes store owners Lee and Terry Owsley and daughter Anna Schoenduby, along with other independent fair trade store representatives from across the United States, had the opportunity this March to visit artisans in India with our host and wholesale partner Matr Boomie.
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, New Delhi
We had to wear head coverings when visiting this Sikh temple. We met a local Sikh tourist who told us stories of healings from the pool of water behind us.
This kitchen prepares all the food for the free meals provided below.
They feed 5000 people three meals daily in a very orderly fashion. It is not unusual for people to sit on the floor. In fact, all the groups we visited sat on the floor, often for hours while doing their work. We found it difficult to sit like that for anything longer than a few minutes, but suppose if that's what you're always done, then you're used to it.
Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is the largest Sikh temple in New Delhi.
Very Special Arts, South Delhi
The students performed a song and dance routine for us. It was very touching for us to see their enthusiasm and joy in celebrating our visit.
This young woman, Rani, is practicing her block printing on newspaper before advancing to cloth. This man is using recycled plastic for handloom weaving bags and purses.
Since its inception in 1997, the Very Special Arts group in South Delhi provides therapy through art to children and adults with disabilities. Young adults in the vocational training program learn how to weave with plastic bag strips and cassette tape and make beautiful bags with recycled material. It was so inspiring to see the joy on the children's faces. The group's founder is Ms. Meera G. She is an energetic 75 years old (she is standing the second from the right of the boy in the wheelchair).
Jewelry Group, Old Delhi
This man named Mulla is an expert in beaded jewelry. He took a special interest in training Terry in the art of poking a hooked needle through a bead and cloth and then pulling a thread from the bottom and then back through. He made it look easy!
If you've purchased a Buddha knot piece of jewelry it was made by the man whose hands are pictured here. He has made every Buddha knot piece sold by Matr Boomie.
Mulla has one hand on top and the other hand is underneath threading the hooked needle from under the cloth. He must turn the needle between his thumb and forefinger a quarter turn each time.
Last summer, we began accepting donations at our stores to sponsor an eye clinic in partnership with Matr Boomie's non-profit organization, SETU. Once enough funds were raised, the clinic was scheduled and took place shortly before our visit. These artisans create most of the jewelry pieces for Matr Boomie, was the beneficiary of the clinic that our customers sponsored. Initially the clinic had only a few patients and they were about to shut it down, but once the community saw the help that was being provided more and more people came and the clinic had to be extended three more days to accommodate everyone. About 240 artisans and their families received free eye exams, medicine, and glasses, and were most appreciative of our efforts to make that possible. Thanks to our customers for your contributions to make this happen! Mr. Nasim, pictured with Terry and Lee, is the head of this jewelry making group and provides employment to several hundred artisans.
This photo was taken in a cricket yard right outside the door of the jewelry workshop. The boys loved trying to get us to play! It felt like a close knit community and we were honored to be a part of it in some way.
Shop Latitudes Fair Trade store in downtown Fredericksburg on Small Business Saturday! We will be opening 2 hours early, with a free gift for every $20 purchase during the early bird hours of 8am-10pm. There will be lots of holiday spirit downtown on this day, so be sure to make plans to pay us a visit!
Date: Saturday, November 28
Location: Latitudes Fair Trade store in Fredericksburg
Give Santa a hand and enjoy wine, treats, and raffle prizes when you make out a wish list of all your fair trade favorites! We'll keep your list so when Santa and his elves shop for you we can help them pick out just the right gift for you.
Can't make it in that day? No problem! Come in anytime, but don't wait too long since everyone who makes out a list by December 1st will be entered into a drawing for the scarf or earrings of their choice!
Date: Sunday, November 15
Location: Latitudes Fair Trade stores in Fredericksburg and Warrenton
The thistle it is actually considered a weed. For Thistle Farms and the women of Magdalene it represents the prickles of their past, with a center of beauty and the promise of new life. Thistle Farms is a social enterprise specifically built for the women that are part of or graduated from the 2-year residential community of Magdalene started by Becca Stevens in 1997. These women are off the streets of Nashville, Tennessee and desperate for help escaping prostitution, trafficking, and addictions. They are provided with housing, food, medical and dental expenses, as well as therapy, education, and job training - all at no cost to them. Thistle Farms and Magdalene are funded by donations and the product sales of Thistle Farms and the Thistle Stop Café.
Latitudes Fredericksburg and Warrenton employees went down to Nashville to learn more about the production of their products and their residential program. Seven employees of Latitudes participated in an education day put on by Thistle Farms.
Every morning they start their day at Thistle Farms with circle time at the Thistle Stop Café. All employees come together to say good morning and have a moment to encourage one another and have a daily meditative prayer focusing on one of the 24 guiding principles of Thistle Farms. A candle is lit for the women that are still out there suffering to see the light and find their way home. We had a lovely morning in the café learning how Thistle Farms has grown over the years and their hopes for expanding. Since 2005, 84% of residents have graduated the 2-year program successfully. Most of them choose to continue their employment at Thistle Farms. They have welcomed 15 new residents this year!
"This community has taught me that when hearts break, love pours out like a river forgetting her boundary. It is possible to see justice in its wake and believe love changes the world. When we step in that river's current, we stir up old bedrock that crumbles into generosity, and compassion." - Founder Becca Stevens
There are four residential Magdalene Houses, which provide a loving home environment for 24 women. This home, built in 2006, is home to 7 women. When the women walk up to this house they normally say, "I get to live here!?" For the first 6 months of the program the women focus solely on their own healing. All the women qualify for food stamps and receive a stipend for additional living expenses. They are responsible for cooking their own meals. On Monday they have mandatory house meetings and a mandatory house dinner. Each house member has to contribute a dish. Local volunteers come and give cooking classes which help the women get creative and healthy in the kitchen. The close knit community of the houses are very significant and teach the women how to live in a healthy and supportive community environment; something many of them have never known.
This is the paper studio at Thistle Farms. Journals, cards, and bookmarks are artistically produced here. The women make their own paper out of recycled and donated t-shirts and paper scraps. Each sheet has dried thistles added as a reminder of hope in dry forgotten places.
This is the sewing studio. It began from a donation of 12 sewing machines. They now produce coasters, hot pads, and totes. Volunteers came in to help teach sewing lessons and design product patterns. In the bottom left photo you will meet Tish, a graduate of the 2-year Magdalene program. She is a Thistle Farmer who knew nothing about sewing, but now has been working in her free time on what she is proudly holding up in the picture. She plans on making it into a pillow.
A cool community story: A young couple came to visit Thistle Farms and was so touched by this place they came up with a way to do more. They were getting married soon and instead of wedding gifts they asked everyone to give a Home Depot gift card. With this gift the couple bought flooring and spent their honeymoon side by side with Thistle Farmers installing it. This story proves just how infectious the love and hope is here.
These products you will recognize from Latitudes and may be even enjoying them in your own home. Their body care line makes lip balm, soaps, lotions, body butters, healing oils, and candles. These are all-natural products infused with herbs and oils. Thistle Farms has a sales team, production team, packaging team and shipping department. This provides valuable work experience and skills for the Magdalene residents and graduates. Thistle Farms products can be found in over 400 stores. While they are healing on the inside, these women are producing something healing for the outside.
A cool community story: While a local writer was visiting Thistle Farms he noticed that they had to wheel their finished products outside and around the back to get them down to packaging and shipping. He decided to make their lives easier and so donated proceeds from a book he authored to to fund the construction of an elevator connecting the two floors. They are very thankful!
This is packaging and shipping departments where wholesale and online orders are filled. They do an excellent job and take this opportunity to gain valuable work experience.
This is the Thistle Stop Café. Magdalene residents and graduates operate this café. From personal experience, I can say they make a delicious cup of Rosemary Revolution tea, served with a smile. If you are ever in Nashville, Tennessee, take the time to stop at the Thistle Stop! Besides purchasing the products in our store, this is another way to financially support Thistle Farms and witness the great work they are doing. When this café was being built the community really pulled together and gave time and materials. The floor was donated by Al Gore from his parent's tobacco barn, and creates a gorgeously rugged look you notice right away. A designer from Anthropologie donated their time to construct the unique tea cup chandeliers. Every cup was donated by someone in the community and most were filled with a story of the cup's history. You can see why this place is so FULL OF LOVE!
Thistle Farms and Magdalene fully embodies the fact that LOVE HEALS! Please come into Latitudes and see their handiwork on our shelves - and pass the love on by giving their products as gifts.