“The situation is bad…there is no tourism at all. Locally, business has totally stopped. We worry about what awaits us in the coming months if the situation will remain the same. Our people will suffer from a shortage of food, medicine.”

These words above came from friends in Bethlehem, whose handicrafts made by traditional carpenters (pictured above) we sell in our Global Handicrafts shop. They’re not unique, though. They represent a heart’s cry which is coming at us from all corners of the world. When the pandemic started spreading globally, we started talking to our partners – fair trade producers, shipment consignees, long-time friends – and all, regardless of their field of work, were telling a tragically similar story. As soon as the crisis hit, these communities were reduced to the bare bones of survival. They needed food, and they needed money to stay above water, let alone care for those who were now battling the infection.

We knew that shipping food halfway across the world from Hong Kong may not be the most efficient way to help. We also knew that Crossroads would not be able to send money of our own. In fact, money has been a particular challenge for Crossroads, too, during Covid-19.

We could do two things, however. First, we could be a voice. Our Global X-perience team was looking right then to find new ways to envision people, during a time when we couldn’t host visitors at our site. So, they produced online videos telling the stories of these suffering friends. Second, we set up an appeal for money so we could quickly and efficiently channel funds to Covid-19 affected communities and use the videos to ask for contributions. We sent money from that fund to several groups who had shared their needs. Now, we’re hearing back about how it’s lifting just some of the burden.

In Northern Uganda, where formal employment is already in single digits, an injection of funds allowed our friends to provide food for extremely vulnerable families struggling through the economic impact of Covid.

In Bethlehem, the funds are helping our fair trade producer partners there stay operational, as traditional carpenters face the instant drying up of their livelihood without a flow of tourists. “Thanks a lot for your hard work,” they said. “The amount will help us to keep on with our missions, this is highly appreciated…”

In Thailand, our partners work with people who are often forced to work in the red light districts of Pattaya. Funds from Crossroads purchased food packs (pictured above) for women who’ve suddenly had their livelihood cut off. “Wonderful news that you want to contribute to the food bags!” came the excited reply when some of our staff offered financial help. “The food distribution is still going on as the need is still huge. More and more people are losing their jobs because there are no tourists here and bars, shops and restaurants are closing all around us.”

More of the relief fund has been shared with partners in places like Nigeria and the Thai-Burma border. As always, difficult times like these affect the poorest and the most vulnerable the most deeply. A recent World Bank report said that this pandemic could push between 71 – 100 million people into extreme poverty in 2020. It would be the first increase in global extreme poverty since 1998.

Want to give funds to help during Covid-19?

You can help relieve the burden of economic hardship hitting those in poverty during Covid-19. Click here to donate. We’re also looking for sustaining donors to help Crossroads continue to serve throughout this challenging time. You can join our team of champions who help make this work possible! Click here to read more about becoming a sustaining donor.


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The city of Bethlehem has attracted tourists seeking peace and meaning for centuries, and for local Bethlehem residents, this stream of tourists is an economic lifeline. In a region where jobs are so scarce, many small handicrafts shops have appeared, where Bethlehem craftsmen can earn an income selling olive wood carvings that symbolise the memory of Bethlehem for visitors.

There’s a darker side to Bethlehem’s woodcarving industry, though. Olive wood artisans often work in small spaces where generations of fine sawdust is thick on the walls, the floor, the roof and even in the garden outside. It takes a serious toll on the health of these craftspeople who often work with wood throughout their entire lives. They can develop coughs and respiratory problems, and even cancer.

For many of these artisans, this is just the way life goes. Their parents before them had worked in the same conditions, just like their grandparents and the generations before them.

One woman, Basma, saw the unsafe conditions faced by Bethlehem’s woodworkers and was determined to make a change. Heading up local enterprise Holy Land Handicrafts – whose wood carvings we sell in our own Global Handicrafts shop – she started making workplaces safer for the 35 workshops in the cooperative. At first, she met resistance. “Why change things from the way our ancestors have done things for generations?” the olive wood families asked her. With education and advocacy, though, Basma started to see people’s attitudes shift, and she finally found one woodworker named Raja, who agreed to let her help him adapt his workshop to make it safer and in line with fair trade principles.

An engineering team worked on Raja’s workshop for months. They re-painted the walls, cleaned out generations of wood dust, and most importantly, installed an extractor device that sucks up wood dust and coating fumes, removing them safely from the workspace. Raja coats his  wood carvings in lacquer to preserve them. Inhaling the fumes for many years had damaged Raja’s health.

“Before, I was coughing all the time when I put lacquer on the carvings,” he explains. “But since I’ve been using the extraction hood, I noticed that I’ve stopped coughing. I can breathe better and my health has improved. It really changed my life.”

In such a small community, it doesn’t take long for stories to spread. The fact that Raja had suddenly stopped coughing reached the ears of other artisans and their wives. Soon, dozens of other woodworking families were begging Holy Land Handicrafts to renovate their own shops too. Thus far, 9 shops have been renovated and many more are on the waiting list! It’s literally changing the health and lives of Bethlehem’s artisans. For their wives too, it’s a relief to know that their own sons, who intend to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, might escape the health problems that have plagued generations of local woodworkers. “Before the renovation, I wouldn’t allow my son to work in this business,” said one mother. “There was so much noise and dust everywhere. It just wasn’t safe and I didn’t want to expose my child to this, even if he wanted it himself. But because of the renovation, I’m now happy for my son to follow his father.”

Olive wood carvings from Holy Land Handicrafts are popular sellers in the Global Handicrafts shop, especially at Christmas time. Now we, and our customers, can breathe a little easier, knowing that the artisans can, too! It’s a joy to know that fair trade truly is changing, and saving lives.


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Crossroads Foundation Hong Kong

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