Huong grew up in a rural Vietnamese village where the odds were against her. Her father had died when she was little and her mother, dependent on seasonal earnings from their little family farm, needed to bring up five children alone. “All I can give you is education,” she told them. “Study, study, study!”

Huong did study hard, graduated and then won an internship with a major company. She quickly climbed the corporate ladder. She never forgot, though, how it had felt to be a small village girl with big dreams and, in time, started a business employing other young women trapped as she was. She chose to specialise in the art of quilling: crafting coloured sheets of paper into extraordinary shapes.

 

Huong started with just 10 women, but the enterprise has now grown to 300 staff, never straying from the goal of paying a fair wage to every employee. She also gives maternity leave and healthcare benefits and strictly limits working hours to avoid exploitation.

In the five years since she started, 2,000 young employees have been trained, most of them women from rural provinces. “Of course, this is a business,” she says, “but the way I look at it, it’s not just about the bottom line. It’s about how many jobs I can create for young women, to give them financial independence and a stable family.”

Today, Quilling Card’s handmade products are hot sellers in our Global Handicrafts shop. We sell a large variety of their greeting cards, as well as quilled earrings, and quilling kits. We were also excited to choose them as the producer for our official 2017 Christmas cards, sending thousands to Crossroads’ supporters and friends around the world.

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It may be the last thing on our minds when taking a sweet bite of chocolate, but it’s the bitter truth: child slavery still plagues the cocoa industry, and the number of slaves is increasing as the world’s consumption of chocolate is increasing. These children are handling dangerous agricultural chemicals, wielding sharp tools, carrying heavy loads, and enduring abuse from their captors.

“The beatings were a part of my life,” said one former child labourer. “When you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.”   

Fair trade group, Divine Chocolate, demonstrates that a love for chocolate doesn’t have to cost innocent lives. They are the only chocolate company worldwide which is 100% fair trade and owned by cocoa producers in a Ghanain cooperative called Kuapa Kokoo. Last year, they generated an astonishing GBP 282,000 which was designated to help build schools, along with other projects that are lifting people out of poverty.

Our Global Handicrafts marketplace has been selling Divine products proudly since our very beginnings.

In 2017-18, we sold 2,339 bars of chocolate, and served chocolate drinks in our cafe made with Divine cocoa, loving that our customers can indulge with a clear conscience.

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Even in a city like Hong Kong, it can be easy for vulnerable women to fall into exploitative sex work. It can, equally, be very, very difficult to get out. NGO Eden exists to walk alongside women who want to exit the sex industry but lack the information, skills or job opportunities to do so. When they were planning their new community centre in Yau Ma Tei, Eden contacted Crossroads for help. They had the space, but needed furniture to fill it. We were only too happy to help with some of the furnishings and accessories on their wish list to support their goal of making their new centre a beautiful place for counselling, comfort, referral to services, job training and non-judgemental friendship (pictured below).

 

Eden jewellery is the best seller in our Global Handicrafts shop

We work with Eden in another part of our lives as well. One of the activities they undertake is training of women in exquisite jewellery making, produced on a fair trade basis. Their beautiful items are best sellers in our Global Handicrafts shop.

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“There’s no health without mental health”   

World Health Organisation  

Hong Kong can feel like a pressure-cooker for those at the grassroots. When rents are high, work hours are long, and there are both children and elderly parents to worry about, self-care and preserving mental health fall to the bottom of the list. Recent figures suggest that more than 13% of Hong Kongers suffer with depression and/or anxiety. Sometimes, all that’s needed to take the first step towards healing is a pair of hands reaching out to say, ‘you are not alone’.

Such is the story of Smiling Heart, which started with one woman battling depression. Volunteers visiting her from Tung Wah group of hospitals noticed she had a creative way to find sunshine through the storm clouds in her life: making handmade jewellery. She told them her depression made it difficult to leave the house and interact with others, but she wanted to keep occupied at home, and create something beautiful.

The Tung Wah volunteers loved her idea and knew it could help others living with mental illnesses. With a little encouragement, the woman agreed to teach other people the skill that had brought light to her own life.

To begin with, she held a workshop for just 2-3 women. Her confidence grew, and so did her sense of self-worth.

 

From there, the project snowballed into Smiling Heart, a registered NGO which today helps many women battling mental illness by offering a place to learn something new, find friendship, and grow stronger together.

Now, they don’t just make jewellery, but also handmade ornaments, magnets and accessories.

 

They’ve been popular products in our Global Handicrafts shop, where we have sold Smiling Heart handicrafts since 2016.

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It was never Maria‘s dream to become a sex worker. With a broken marriage behind her, though, and a past of rape and abuse, she was struggling to bring up her child in Hong Kong. Desperate, she signed up for work in a massage parlour: one which, like many, came with the expectation of ‘extra services’ for clients. As years passed in this role, Maria’s self-worth crumbled. Life held little promise. It didn’t take much convincing, then, when she met a man on WeChat who asked her to marry him, sight unseen. “Come and meet me in Australia,” he said, painting a picture of a new, trouble free life.

When she arrived at the airport in Australia, however, immigration officers were on high alert. Trained to identify signs of trafficking victims, they called Maria to one side. Before long, Maria discovered that, had she successfully connected with her ‘groom’, she would have become a statistic: one in a line of women tricked into work in a brothel or forced labour.

It was a narrow escape for Maria. She returned to Hong Kong shattered in spirit, but resolute about starting over. Thankfully, Maria met one of our partners, Eden, an NGO that supports women wanting to escape the sex industry. They gave her friendship and counselling. They helped her learn English. They supported her research into new job prospects, such that, today, Maria is thriving as a property agent.

Sadly, Maria’s story of hope does not typify the narrative for many who have been trafficked into sex work. Because of the underground nature of trafficking, it’s almost impossible to know the full scope, but estimates suggest 21 million people are trapped in modern day slavery, worldwide.

Eden is at work in several Asian locations, supporting other ‘Maria’s on their journeys. One of their centres trains its women to make jewellery: exquisite items that are among our best-sellers in Global Handicrafts, Crossroads’ fair trade shop. And, when Eden recently opened an office in Hong Kong, we were only too delighted to support it with donated furniture and computers from our warehouse.

Perhaps Maria herself is best in summing up the inspiring work of Eden. “You have helped me a lot,” she says. “You always ask me questions that inspire me to think deeply about myself. You are like my angels.”


Commitment for Freedom

Eden’s ‘Committed’ necklace is more than a piece of jewellery. Each necklace has a gold heart taken from the middle and made into another necklace. This second pendant is given to a woman through Eden’s projects in Asian red-light districts.

“We hand her the gift and tell her that somewhere in another city or country there is a person wearing the other half of her necklace who values her and is standing up for freedom,” say Eden.

Committed necklaces are available at Global Handicrafts for HK$245.

 

1, 224 pieces of Eden jewellery have been sold through our Global Handicrafts in 2017.

 

 

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For the 150,000 people with hearing disabilities in Kazkhstan, it can, indeed, be a silent, lonely existence.  Services for the deaf and understanding of support are still a challenge in many areas, particularly those living in poverty. Some grow up never learning any formal sign language because their families are unable to access support. Our Christmas cards in 2016 were made by deaf and hearing impaired young adults. They carefully crafted the cards’ hand-made components, drawing on cultural elements traditional to the region and even the humour with which, despite life’s difficulties, they wonderfully embed in their craft.

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War can leave a deadly legacy long after its ‘finish’. Guatemala’s civil war ended in the 90’s but the country still hovers at the top of the charts for violent crimes, drug cartels and pedophile rings. Daily life can, then, still feel somewhat like a battle zone

The town of La Ezperanza is translated ‘Hope’. Women in that town gathered to bring change. They chose to do so in its infamous ‘Red Zone’:  a part so dangerous that tourists are warned not to visit. Hope, though, drove these women on.

They formed a FairTrade group UPAVIM, a Spanish acronym which, in translation, means “United for a better life’. Together they are literally and figuratively ‘crafting’ a different future.

 

“The beautiful colors, the conversations shared over cups of coffee, the sound of children’s laughter, and the collective force of empowered women make [it] an inspirational and joyful place to live and work,” say staff.

“By earning a fair wage we have been able to pull ourselves out of poverty, improve our living conditions, feed and care for our families, and send our children to school.”

It’s difficult to reconcile the beautiful, joyful products with the grief that some of their creators have endured, raising their children on the front lines of fear and violence. We’re glad to walk with them in bringing their story of courage and their handiwork to a global audience.

Our Global Handicrafts shop now sells their products.

It’s difficult to reconcile the beautiful, joyful products with the grief that some of their creators have endured, raising their children on the front lines of fear and violence. We’re glad to walk with them in bringing their story of courage and their handiwork to a global audience.

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IMG_5578It will come as no surprise that Vietnam’s rural villages see many trapped in poverty. What is a surprise, perhaps, in today’s world, is that this grip is much stronger on women than men. As a young girl, Huong took every step she could to change that story. The odds were not in her favour. Her father had died when she was little and her mother, dependent on seasonal earnings from their little family farm, needed to bring up five children alone. “All I can give you is education,” she told her children. “Study, study, study!”

Huong did. So did her five siblings. Three of them, all boys, received scholarships for medical school. Huong applied for a scholarship as well but was told ‘a girl from the village doesn’t need to go to college.’  She eyed her options. She knew girls from the village who had left to find their own way forward, only to fall into sex work in neighbouring Cambodia. She knew of others, too, who had ended up working in a dark, dusty lacquerware factory: places where workers are often in poor health and where wages are so low that they provide no way to get ahead.

Huong’s choices were bleak until, miraculously, an organisation agreed to sponsor her tertiary education. She was on her way. She studied hard, graduated and then won an internship with a major company. She moved from strength to strength in the business world, never forgetting how it felt to be a small village girl with big dreams.

To that end, Huong has taken another step in her battle to see doors opened for other young women who are trapped as she was. She has found a niche business in papercrafts: specialising in the art of quilling greeting cards. She started with just 10 women employees, but has now grown to 300 staff, never straying from the goal of paying a fair wage to every employee. Her wages are 25% higher than the local rate, but she wants good working conditions for her employees. She also gives maternity leave and healthcare benefits and strictly limits working hours to avoid exploitation._J3A1716

In the five years since Huong started the business, 2,000 young employees have been trained, most of them women from rural provinces. “Of course, this is a business,” she says, “but the way I look at it, it’s not about the bottom line. It’s about how many jobs I can create for young women, to give them financial independence and a stable family.”

It was our joy to support Quilling Card this year when we chose them as the producer for our 2017 Christmas cards. They’ve done a beautiful, professional job, testament to a woman with great vision and great values.

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It’s true what people say. Recovery from a disaster can take decades. Haiti is one example. Six years on from their devastating tragedy, in January 2009, and the country continues to battle to find full recovery. More than half the population lives below the poverty line and jobs are scarce. Yet fair trade is having impact. Creative Haitian artisans have found a way. To take used metal drums and recycle them into beautiful works of art. For many artisans with Comite Artisanal Haitien, the money they earn making these crafts is their sole income.

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