Fair trade retailer has a vast global backyard


delapaz-webPhoto by James A. McBride

Darlene DeLaPaz, store manager of Ten Thousand Villages in Philadelphia, a fair-trade retailer of artisan handiwork, speaks at Rutgers-Camden on Friday, March 25, the day of the 11th annual Romero Lecture.



CAMDEN — “The world is my own backyard… I have to go where I am called to go,” says Darlene DeLaPaz.

As a young girl growing up in western Pennsylvania, DeLaPaz always had a desire to help others, to which her father replied, “Look in your backyard.”

Today, she is working in her global backyard, as a store manager of Ten Thousand Villages in Philadelphia, a fair-trade retailer of artisan handiwork from all across the world.

DeLaPaz for the past five years, has managed the Center City location of the more than 150 Ten Thousand Village retailers across the United States. On Friday, March 25, she presented two workshops at Rutgers University here, as part of the Romero Center Ministries’ 11th annual Romero Lecture Series.

The theme of this year’s event was “Images of Justice: Prophets, Poets, and the Arts,” and the keynote address was given by Carolyn Forche, a poet, professor and political activist. The day also featured workshops on social justice, faith and the arts.

Ten Thousand Villages began in 1946 after Edna Ruth Byler, a volunteer for the Mennonite Central Committee, visited a sewing class in Puerto Rico and saw the women hand sewing beautiful textiles. Today, featuring products from more than 130 artisan groups in 38 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, the organization creates relationships with these developing countries where skilled artisans are underemployed or unemployed.

Marketing their handicrafts in the United States, Ten Thousand Villages sends store income back to the artisans, who use it for food, education and to improve their homes.

Ten Thousand Villages is a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization and a longstanding member of the Fair Trade Federation.

In her workshop, which she facilitated with assistant store manager Carly Frintner, DeLaPaz presented a slideshow of her own trips to Laos and Cambodia, where some artisans live and work.

Telling the stories of a Cambodian artisan workshop, DeLaPaz mentioned that 4 percent of the Cambodian population are disabled and lack employment opportunities. As well, after decades of war, Cambodians live with the fear of stepping on one of the estimated 6 million landmines still in the ground — in the artisan workshop, almost every worker has been injured by a landmine.

Another crisis in Cambodia is that so many women resort to prostitution and human trafficking because of the low minimum wage.

DeLaPaz stressed that her goal was not only to help the impoverished earn fair wages, but to bring the beauty of their crafts, which reflect their own culture, to a bigger market.

“I think part of every young person’s education, should be to learn about people in poverty,” she noted. “In the workshop, we want to show something that people are not familiar with.”

DeLaPaz has seen her faith “in living color,” and how her work in Philadelphia, and customers’ generosity, has improved the lives of those living in places like Cambodia and Laos.

Coming from a blue-collar home with humble beginnings, she has seen what people can do when they decide to live as God calls them.

“I came from an ordinary household,” she said. “Now I can do extraordinary things for others.”

For more information on Ten Thousand Villages, go to www.tenthousandvillages.com