One Woman’s Passion for Celebrating Other Women Evolved into a Cause That Helps Break the Cycle of Poverty
- Written byDiane E. Barber
- Photos courtesy ofTen Thousand Villages
When Edna Ruth Byler, a Mennonite relief agency volunteer in Pennsylvania, visited Puerto Rico with her husband more than 70 years ago, it changed the course of her life and the lives of many others. Her empathy for the impoverished families she encountered during her travels inspired her to encourage the women she met to reclaim their dignity and foster change through self-empowerment.
Having experienced the Great Depression firsthand, her awareness of their familiar plight set a soulful current of change in motion. Edna purchased beautifully embroidered textiles made by talented villagers to sell to her neighbors and friends at home. Her idea was so well received that, with the support of the organization that she volunteered for, she was able to travel and invest in more merchandise. By the 1950s, her outreach spanned the globe as her pioneering fair-trade market efforts helped economically sustain more faraway families.
When Edna began selling international treasures out of her car to help others, she planted a seed of hope and marked the beginning of what is now Ten Thousand Villages: 50+ maker-to-market nonprofit stores throughout the U.S. that sell purposeful handcrafted goods from more than 25 developing countries. Riviera Village in Redondo Beach is home to one of the only two stores in California, which was made possible after a local group of founding board members worked diligently for more than two years to raise the funds needed to open its doors in the summer of 2014.
Board member Lynn Fadale shares, “My husband and I were a part of a social justice ministry at American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach when we were inspired by the concept of fair trade. We took a course to learn more about it, and when we finished the program, we wanted to save the world! We visited a fair-trade market in Orange County and decided that we needed to do something like that at our church. So we had a Christmas market. One of the vendors was the manager of the Pasadena Ten Thousand Villages store, who assisted us when we were planning our store.”
A myriad of ethically sourced wares handcrafted by artisans throughout the world pays homage to generations of heritage. The ever-changing local store inventory tended by store manager Michelle Ryan and a volunteer staff includes one-of-a-kind gifts, home décor, jewelry, kitchen items, clothing, accessories, and more for men, women and children. Examples of the uniqueness of the shopping experience include baskets and blankets handmade in Bangladesh from recycled saris, jewelry crafted from repurposed bomb casings in Cambodia as wearable symbols of peace, and handmade greeting cards with messages on the back that read, “This card was created for you by women who have escaped sex trafficking in the Philippines.”
Purchases by South Bay residents help more than 100,000 people globally who rely on Ten Thousand Villages for their family income. The artisan certification process ensures there is no child or slave labor involved in the making of the merchandise. “The community deserves a big pat on the back for how the store has been received and supported,” says founding board member Tony Fadale. “We are a group that cares about vulnerable people in many other countries, and we are giving them a market for what they produce to help them improve their lives.”