I know I haven’t posted yet exactly what we’re up to with the non-profit and Peter’s trip.  I thought I’d get the time to finish writing this post days ago — but I forgot that I would actually be MORE busy with him away because of helping with the business and having the kiddos 24/7.   Anyway, here’s the nutshell version. There’s more, but I wanted to give at least an overview while Peter’s still in Liberia.

Our desire to get more involved in this area started with our passion to see less kids become orphans. As awesome as adoption is, it would be better in a lot of cases if biological parents were able to raise their children. But for so many parents in struggling countries, extreme poverty forces them to relinquish their kids just so their kids will survive. While this is sacrificial and often saves children’s lives, it really grieves our hearts to think about parents being in such a hard place that they are forced to make a decision like this. We started thinking about ways we could make a difference soon after we made the decision to begin our adoption process two years ago, and that’s how we initially started thinking about this stuff.

For the last year or so, we’ve been talking specifically about helping small businesses and ground-level economics in developing countries.  We know first-hand how difficult it is to start a business here in the US where there are ample opportunities to find investors and mentors.   In many struggling countries, it’s almost impossible even for highly motivated and skilled people to start their own businesses or improve their struggling ones. We’ve been very interested in micro-loans and micro-grants, but also have been brainstorming other ways to help.  When we were in Liberia in November we were so impressed by the level of craftsmanship and artistry evident in the sidewalk vendors and the markets.   We talked to men and women who were struggling to make a living selling their items.  They were barely making it.  Literally, barely making enough to feed their families — no extra to send their kids to school or pay for medication if someone got sick.  And they certainly didn’t have the resources to expand/improve their businesses in order to do these things. 

We brought some items home with us as gifts and we were overwhelmed by the response from our friends and family.  Everyone was as impressed as we had been with the quality and artistry and we began to think about the possibility of providing an outlet for these talented and hardworking people to sell their items.  We have always been interested in fair trade and strongly agree with the underlying principles of paying people decently and fairly for their labor or products; thereby insuring both their success and their ability to sow back into the local economy.  As we’ve studied it more the last six months, supporting fair trade has become a strong conviction and we are really excited about this opportunity to help on a relational level.

Eventually we’d like to offer micro-loans and/or micro-grants for small business ventures, but there is a lot that goes into loans.  For now, we are going to be working with a few small business owners that Peter met with to set up a grant program, not for money but for tools that would help take their business to a level where they can employ more people and/or afford to send their kids to school, etc.  We also want to eventually work on some sort of apprenticeship/vocational training program that would benefit both the mentor and the apprentice. 

So actually, this vision of ours has two parts.  The non-profit part which will fund the vocational training and apprenticeships and the micro-loans and grants. And also the import/commerce side that will fund artisans in developing countries and then donate any additional “profits” to the non-profit to sow back into the country through the organizations we partner with — to help build orphanages, schools, churches, and drill wells, etc. 

Right now, we are working on getting the website going for the commerce side.  Peter has been meeting with a lot of different artisans and he has been arranging for shipping, etc.  We’d like to get into a couple stores in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene with our items, as well as start wholesaling to other stores around the country that carry fairly-traded global items. One of the fundamentals of fair trade is that all goods are purchased in full from the artisans or farmers in developing countries so there is no confusion later (or exploitation.)  This is what Peter has been doing.  We’re hoping to pursue an ongoing relationship with a lot of the artisans in the future, but this way we are free to sell their items without the pressure of needing to pay them later for time and materials that they’ve already used. 

I want to end by saying that we didn’t want to start something ourselves just for the sake of starting something.  (Certainly not!  We know what goes into running a corporation — profit or non!)  We see the benefits to partnering with other organizations and working together for optimum results.  But sometimes it makes sense to pioneer and begin something — especially when it’s a need that’s not being filled. As far as we know from researching and talking to a lot of different people, this is a fairly new outlet for Liberia, although common in other African countries. We’re starting in Liberia, but we’d like to expand to other countries as well. We’re going to be listing smaller quantities of the bracelets from Threads of Hope (Philippines) since you can only order larger batches for fund-raising on their website. We’re praying about other possible countries that we have connections in as well.  So, we’ll see.  For now we’re just really excited about this trip and this door and can’t wait to get the website fully operational!