Ten Thousand Villages: Working with Haitian artisans – past present and future

Maria Lyons with Haitian bird nest

Ten Thousand Villages is the oldest and largest Fair Trade organization in North America.

Through a network of 50 stores in Canada and 150 stores in the United States, Ten Thousand Villages sells artisan-crafted personal accessories, home decor and gift items, from around the globe.

Ten Thousand Villages works with artisans, otherwise unemployed or underemployed, and provides them with sustainable income through Fair Trade. This income helps pay for food, education, health care and housing.  Thousands of volunteers work with Ten Thousand Villages, in their home communities.

Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit program of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the relief and development agency of Mennonite churches in North America.

Ten Thousand Villages and Haiti

Since 1972, Ten Thousand Villages has exported crafts from individual Haitian artisans, co-operatives, groups and family businesses.

I live close to a Ten Thousand Villages store, here in Victoria, and often make purchases (mostly Fair Trade coffee) at that store.  Recently, I chatted with Maria Lyons, store manager, about the situation in Haiti, and how people can help.  Maria told me the best way to help artisans right now is to sell their products.  Maria says “Ten Thousand Villages is also in the Philippines, and when the typhoon struck the Philippines (this fall), our artisans told us the best way to help them was to place more orders and to sell more product, which ensures future work.

So, to advocate for Haitian artisans and North American consumerism, I put together this short 3 minute video. Supplementing Maria’s guided tour of Haitian products, sold in her/my local Ten Thousand Villages store, are a few photos of Haitian artisans, along with some music of the region. (photos & music courtesy Ten Thousand Villages) If you can’t see the video, click here.

The importance of long-term relationships

When disaster struck Haiti three weeks ago, Ten Thousand Villages was quick to respond; working through the Mennonite Central Committee, $100k was raised, with a further $1million to be committed, over the next few years, for Haitian relief.

The quick response reflected the relationship between Ten Thousand Villages and Haitian artisans, a relationship dating back almost four decades.

Four times a year, Ten Thousand Villages purchases artisan goods from the Comite Artisanal Haitien, a non-profit marketing cooperative in Haiti, representing more than 800 Haitain artisans, in 170 different workshops.  In the past, the money earned by these artisans is not just supplemental income, it is often the sole source of support for the artisans, and their families.  And now? Well, you can imagine the need!

In this video clip, Maria talks about upporting Haiti after the media leaves, the value of long-term relationships and sustainable practices… (if you can’t see this video, click here)

Know and do more?

Want to know more about the link between sustainability and Fair Trade or just plain Fair Trade?  Check out my post about Level Ground Trading: Linking sustainability to long-term relationships.  It includes a summary of Fair Trade practice, along with the relevant links.

Want to support Haitian artisans?  Purchase some fairly traded Haitian artwork from Ten Thousand Villages store.  Your purchase ensures future orders of Haitian artisan product will be made (artisans are paid up-front, in full, for their goods), giving the artisans the incentive, and future income, they’ll need, going forward.

Raechel (a volunteer) and I are happy about my Fair Trade purchase, at Ten Thousand Villages (photo credit: Maria Lyons)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to my blog. Thanks, Ben.


  1. Tammy Lenski says

    Ben, about 15 years ago I found myself in Key West for a few weeks and had gotten thoroughly sick of the perpetual party that is a piece of the Key West experience for some. I filled my time by walking all over the key, exploring streets and roads and niches off the tourist-beaten path. On one quiet little street I noticed a sign for an art gallery and wandered in. It was my first experience with Haitian art and I was mesmerized by the color and vibrance. I’ve never forgotten that little place and your post brought it back to mind again.

    Thanks for encouraging us to support Haitian artisans and going the extra mile to show us why.

  2. Tammy, thanks for your sharing your experience. I’m of the same mind re: your comment about color and vibrance. It always amazes me how countries, like Haiti, can be so poor economically, yet be so rich in other ways, such as their culture, and the emphasis they place on people and relationships. We in the North have much to learn from them.

  3. Interesting read. I know of a few NGO’s doing similar stuff for Indian rural artists 🙂 Lovely initiative.

  4. elizabeth harris says

    Well done, Maria. Nice to see you in the store outlining so clearly what 10,000 Villages does all year round to support artisans and their families in Haiti and many, many other countries. Look forward to seeing you and the volunteers at the Oak Bay store soon.

  5. Marilyn Davison says

    A wonderful concept and obviously well implemented and managed. I can’t find any mention of the stores here in France, or even UK, do you have any links ? Thanks great post

  6. Marilyn… Ten Thousand Villages can only be found in North America, 50 stores in Canada and 150 in the US. A good starting point for finding Fair Trade in the UK is the Fair Trade Foundation website: fairtrade.org.uk I know Fair Trade is big in Europe, and I’m guessing there are sites similar to Ten Thousand Villages in your locale. Hope you find them. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Elizabeth… I’m sure Maria will be happy to know she did a fine job representing the store. And you can tell her that in person!

    Priyanka… Thanks for checking in here. Which similar (to Ten Thousand Villages) NGOs and Indian rural artists are you familiar with? Any example you’d like to share?

  7. Ben,
    Thanks for putting together this wonderful post! You do a great job outlining the work Ten Thousand Villages does and the videos are fantastic!!

  8. Katie, I really appreciate your positive comment. Glad you liked the videos – I enjoyed piecing them together.

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