Hand-crafted coiled baskets from Bangladesh, Vietnamese bamboo bowls, hand-made silver jewelry from Peru and Nepal, Tanzanian musical instruments, and olive oil from Palestine are just a few of the many items found at the Ten Thousand Villages gift sale on Nov. 11-14 at the .
Founded in 1946, the non-profit organization has grown to a network of 72 Ten Thousand Villages fair trade stores in the United States. Their Washington store, at 65th & Roosevelt in Seattle, works with MIPC to coordinate the Mercer Island sale.
Ken Cozine, off-site sales coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages said that his organiztion represents artisans and craftsworkers from more than forty developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
"We like to say this is not a 'hand out' but a 'hand up' for artisans around the world," he said. "They are able to use their skills and native crafts to earn a fair trade wage and improve their quality of life by establishing a market for their goods."
The Mercer Island Presbyterian Church has held this pre-holiday annual international gift sale for over 20 years. Event coordinator Marilyn Handeland said the event started as a small evening event where long-time church member, Val Giesbrecht, brought in a few items from Ten Thousand Villages and put on display in the old MIPC library. It has evolved into a four day, much anticipated event, requiring the volunteer time of many MIPC members for set up, display design, sales and cashiering.
"We are delighted to be on Mercer Island," Cozine said, "Even though it is not that far from our Seattle store, for some Islanders this is their only exposure to Ten Thousand Villages and we are always pleased to have their participation. MIPC is the largest off-site sale we do."
The interior courtyard of the church is transformed into an artistic display of the beautifully hand crafted linens, jewelry, woven baskets, hand knitted scarves, hats and mittens, food products, and numerous other home décor and gift items. Christmas trees with ornaments from Ecuador and Peru, hand-made manger scenes and other Christmas decorations fill a portion of the room for pre-holiday shoppers.
"I try to get here every year. It's a fun sale and handy to have here on the Island," said 17-year resident, Sarah West. "Knowing that it is fair trade and the artists are fairly compensated is important to me as well."
The baskets from Bangladesh range from $8 for a small round bowl to $42 for a colorful large coiled basket with lid. Beautiful hand block printed table runners sell for $30 – they originate in Jaipur, India where these artisans families have practiced hand block printing for generations. For $26 you can pick up a bottle of Nabali Tree olive oil, which comes from Palestine's native olive tree. An intricately cut metal wall sculpture from Haiti sells for $84. And from Uganda comes a detailed and unique manger scene handcrafted from banana fiber – it sells for $48.
The International Gift Sale, currently at the Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, runs Thursday, Nov. 11 through Saturday, Nov. 13, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 14, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Gifts purchased help pay for housing, food, education and healthcare for the artisans in the Ten Thousand Villages program. The Mercer Island community's support enables a significant and growing number of third world artists to practice their crafts and find a better way of life for themselves and their families.