Some of you may have heard us talking. Saying things like, "Exciting change is coming this year." Or, "We'll have to get back to you on that as we are in the midst of transition." OR, "We can't tell you what's going on until March, but its BIG."
Well, somehow it is March already. The time is now. The curtains are being drawn back. All is being revealed. Are you ready? Whew. Deep breath.
Welcome to the Year of the Non-Profit.
We are closing the current store location and moving to another space downtown. Yes, you heard that right.
We have felt very strongly called to do this since the first week of January. Believe me, it came as quite a shock at first, but we are now incredibly excited for what this means and the freedom that is in store.
"Tell us more," you say.
Well, get comfortable because there isn't a Cliff's Notes version of this story...
Our hearts are deeplydrawn to our poverty-relief and slavery-prevention efforts overseas as well as here in the U.S.
We long to be able to offer life-changing business training and development opportunities to more and more communities.
The hunger is there.
The market is ready for it.
Communities in Pakistan, Mexico, Ethiopia, Uganda, India and others are asking for us to come and teach.
Come and offer hope.
Come and bring knowledge of how to dream, how to rise above a cycle of poverty and undignified labor, how to create a self-sustaining wage that will provide for families and their educations and offer alternatives to sex-work, indentured servitude or child labor.
Others across the U.S. desire this model. And we believe that as many who want it, should have it. The opportunity to help others create change for themselves and their communities is too good to pass up. We want to walk alongside other organizations similar to ours and offer what we have been learning so they too can bring this to their communities in a spirit of multiplication. We also want to encourage others to live a life that is actively pursuing justice and love both here and elsewhere.
As we look at this calling on our lives, this deep longing to serve and bless others, we realize that we have to obey it. Even if it costs us some things in the process. Nothing risked, nothing gained right?
This is the year of Bigger and Better.
The year of offering the little that we have and watching as it is supernaturally increased to become so much more than we could ever ask or imagine. We believe that we can join God in what He is already doing and see healing and transformation as a result. And we want you to come with us on this journey into somewhat uncharted waters.
We have considered what we believe is being asked of us this year. It is apparent that we have some deficits that will need to be filled if we are to walk this out. The first and largest deficit is in the arena of time. Beginning with a $700 investment, some incredible relationships, and a pop-up tent, Yobel has been able to grow to its current state. We are now managing a store front, an online store, a non-profit, 3-4 trips a year, 73 annual events, and two websites all with 3 staff members and the most amazing volunteers on the planet. Every year, the number of communities we impact and the amount of sales through our store and events has increased. However, even with all that help, it is still a lot.
Some of you may be aware that we have a for-profit 'market' side and a non-profit 'international' side to Yobel. In the past we have majored in the market and minored in the non-profit. That has enabled us to come to a place where we believe the market will continue to grow in a sustainable way without focusing on it in the same way.
In order to grow the non-profit side this year, we believe we need to open up our schedules in order to be free to pursue the opportunities before us. So we are restructuring a bit. Instead of spending our days focused on sales through a physical store-front location, we are taking our brand online and on the road. We will still offer local Saturday sales events in the new digs and be a consistent presence at events in Colorado, but the majority of our sales will now come from larger events, wholesale, and online markets. Our hope is that we will still provide an outlet for our fair-trade artisans to sell their wares as well as a place for our fellow Americans to purchase ethically, but in a quarter of the time. In essence, we are seeking a more wholistic approach to all that is Yobel - both for-profit and non. In order to accomplish this, we will not only have to adapt our way of life but also move to a new home-base.
We will be opening up a new multi-purpose location downtown to better meet our organizational needs. The new space will:
serve as an office (dramatically reducing our monthly coffee bill) where you will be able to find Sarah, Donavan, Julia, and Kylie all consistently working in the same place! Crazy, yes?
A creative space for designing new products, dreaming of new ways to teach business implementation, get the word out and planning awareness events
A collaborative community space to host events and draw our tribe together
A warehouse area to store products that will be online in greater quantities and available for wholesale
A Show Room where we will set up our retail products for sale to the public via weekly Saturday trunk sales & special holiday events
We cannot wait to show it to you!!!
So what does this mean for you, our greater community?
Well, if you are a local, it means that you will be able to engage with us throughout the week with fun community events in our new home that are geared toward engaging our tribe. It means you will be able to shop with us on Saturdays, throughout the holidays, at events and online. It means that you may even be able to wholesale from us, host an event at your church or school, or even a home party should you desire to do so. It means that there will be more trips, more events, and service opportunities for you to be involved in.
If you are a volunteer, it means that we are going to need you just as much, but in different capacities. We will need events staff, designers, sales help, office help, web help, and more.
If you are out of town, this affects you the least and in the best ways! It means more online for you to choose from, more blogs coming your way, more opportunities to Come & See as you travel with us, more possibility of finding us at an event in your home town and fun opportunities to host home parties and awareness events. Exciting!
But regardless, we need you. We want you. We cannot move forward without you.
Another necessary component of this transition is that Donavan, Julia, and Sarah will each be raising portions of their salaries beginning in March. Yobel International has increased it's non-profit budget quite a lot this year in hopes of offering ourselves to others for the sake of seeing hope and love brought to many more lives. While the market has been sustainable as a business, it is not able to fund the non-profit efforts in it's entirety, even when giving 50% of it's annual profits away.
In order to impact our second deficit, that of financial resources, we would ask for you to consider joining us at our events and giving to us financially this year as well. This is not something that we ask lightly. However, we have a strong conviction about the importance and timeliness of the work we've been given to do, and we want to continue to include you in it. For some of our community, this may look like helping us fund our effort.
Our new non-profit website allows our community of friends and supporters to designate a donation or simply contribute to the general fund. You can give a one-time tax-deductible gift, or contribute monthly through Yobel International's new website while keeping up with what we are doing and where we are heading.
Thank-you for all your support the past 5 years. We are who we are because of Jesus and because of you. We CANNOT WAIT to see all that is in store for 2013!
P.S. - We'll be having a pretty amazing moving sale over the next month in the boutique, including much of our sought after display materials. Bring your friends and spread the word for great deals on Fairly Traded goods! Check in on FB, Twitter, and our newsletter for specifics on sales and the new locale! Sales begin Monday, March 11th.
All stereotypes aside, this girl LOVES chocolate. But not just any waxy, sugary, drugstore-variety mind you. Give me the real deal or nothing at all. I want rich, creamy, smooth, deep dark bittersweet cocoa (fairly-traded if you please).
And this past Christmas, I discovered it. The Holy Grail de cacao.
Ecuadorian-farmed, Colorado-made boutique truffles, bars, and best yet:
Chocolate in a Jar.
When it comes to America's favorite 13 billion dollar confection industry, we have yet to see a product like this. It's not a sauce, spread or fudge. Nope. This thing is in a class of it's own.
Taste this: Fairly traded cocoa blended with organic coconut oil and fair trade organic sugar to make a thick, creamy eat-with-a-spoon chocolate treat that deserves a spot on the end table near your bed. Warm it slightly and it becomes a decadent coating for fruit and shortbread. Heat it a little more and you have a gooey topping to pour over ice-cream. Stir it into steamed milk and Swiss Miss takes a backseat.
And now you too can access this incredible creation all the while knowing you are promoting sustainability in the realm of cocoa farming, supporting well-paying jobs in Ecuador, protecting the rainforest, and being certain that your favorite sweet treat is free from child and slave labor. Not a bad way to say I love you.
I've been up since 2am. Maybe it's my excitement for the Super Bowl this Sunday (who's playing again?), but this girl is a sleeper and these restless nights don't come too often. However, the pillow isn't getting any fluffier, so I thought I'd ponder a few things with you instead. There is a question I've been asking a lot lately:
What does it look like to live a life of love and radical justice in this time and place?
There are a lot of answers. Some great books. A billion and one non-profits to volunteer with and some very well-written blogs to read. But at the end of the day, if you are justice-minded and love-driven this is a very personal question that has to be answered by you, for you.
I think it is worth looking at generational trends as we ponder. I'm a Generation X/Y straddle. I've always felt like I fit somehow into both places - kind of like the extrovert who needs to recharge by spending long hours alone. Gen X is consistently characterized by independence, a desire for deep and meaningful relationships, a 'work to live' mentality, a need for freedom and flexibility, and a desire to contribute to the greater good. Gen Y is known for it's family-centric values, need for genuine experience, tech-savviness, love of working in a team, desire for feedback, and deep passion for environmental and social issues.
What I interpret that to mean for myself is that I am an experientially driven individual who listens to my intuition and personal feelings and yet has a strong sense of loyalty and individuality while being achievement oriented. Maybe my generational timeline has nothing to do with it. Maybe it's all about my Myers-Briggs score. Who knows?
As I look around at my current peer group, a group largely motivated by current events and justice issues, I think it is important to ask some gen-specific questions. Because I see some trends that are intriguing...and they make me wonder. Most of the current generation has constant and instantaneous access to information and technology, bringing the global community closer together than ever before. This generation cares quickly and passionately (for a time) about that which concerns them. When an issue is able to capture them (which is typically through an experience of some kind) Gen Y is immediately right there, passionate, aware and ready to engage. It's really quite inspiring. This group of young adults is more aware of social and current issues than many who have gone before them.
However, this passionate embrace is often short-lived as the next most-concerning topic flashes across the media feed.
Gen Y needs to be hip, current, affirmed. So when that next biggest topic presents itself, the issues of the past are discarded in favor of the newest crisis trend like last year's skinny jeans. The good news is that Gen Y will devote themselves just as passionately to this next cause, the sad news is that those previously advocated for are left in the hands of a faithful few with even fewer resources. So what to do about this fair-weather philanthropy? As my young friend Zach has said:
"We need to get skin in the game."
And I'm not just talking football. Passion isn't enough apart from action these days.
Our theoretical 'skin' can be giving our hard-earned cash, volunteering, taking an overseas trip...all with the same end result. Activists are invested at their own expense, meaning it's much harder to walk away. When we engage, when we know, when we encounter, when we LOVE we are changed. And changed people change the world.
We can no longer allow ourselves to be people motivated by the most desperately presented need, nor the most frequently tweeted. We must be motivated by love. Only when we are motivated by love do we remain committed long enough to see justice done, regardless of our generational trend. To paraphrase Jim Martin of IJM:
The perpetrators of injustice are more committed than the justice seekers. We so-called 'activists' show up late and leave early. Justice will never be done until we are as committed to freedom as others are to exploitation.
For me that means taking my craving for experience and using it to step into the lives of others. It means taking my loyalty and choosing to stick there. It means using my individuality and achievement orientation to love and serve others in practical and consistent ways. But I don't know what that means for you.
Whether you are a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer or a Millenial child, my question is the same:
How are we going to get some skin in the game?
While we nosh on our potato skins and chicken wings this Sunday, why not take a $4 million commercial break to ponder who it is that we see truly committed to freedom and ask ourselves how they are walking that out?
You’ve been hit by a tsunami of political ads, speeches, jokes, and serious conversations all swirling around one topic: the 2012 Presidential Candidacy. If you’re like many people, you’re probably getting sick of it, but the good news is that in less than a week, we will know whom our President for the next four years will be. If you haven’t already mailed in your ballot, then you still face the decision of picking a candidate from the dozens listed on the ballot.
As someone who is concerned with human rights, I’m a bit surprised topics such as global poverty, human trafficking and slavery, or humanitarian relief efforts haven’t been more in the spotlight, especially during the third Presidential debate on foreign policy. I wanted to learn more about the two primary party candidates’ positions on topics of human rights, so I did a bit of research, and here is what I have discovered.
Barack Obama “No matter who we are or where we come from, we have an obligation to not only embrace our shared humanity but also our shared responsibility”
President Obama declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, followed by February first proclaimed National Freedom Day (1).
The Obama administration has made several initiatives to combat slavery and trafficking, including enacting an executive order that strengthens protections (zero-tolerance policy) in federal contracts, providing tools and training to identify and assist trafficking victims, increasing resources for victims of trafficking, and has developed a comprehensive plan for future action (2, 3).
In terms of assisting in the development of other countries, the Obama administration created a pillar of foreign policy dedicated strictly to development. One of the key focuses of this pillar is agricultural development and tackling maternal and child malnutrition (4).
The Obama administration also created a plan, working with organizations like ONE, that is on track to provide AIDS/HIV treatment to 6 million previously-unreached people by the end of 2013 (4).
Mitt Romney - “Our assistance to developing countries, if used wisely, can encourage growth, promote freedom, and keep us safe”
A Romney administration would change the overall current system of aid, transitioning much of it to private enterprise and invest in building institutions of liberty in other nations (4).
Romney would institute a new Prosperity Pact program, essentially linking money used to assist other nations in development as well as relief programs to rules of trade and economic policies that would open those markets in target nations to the U.S. (5).
In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations would receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law and property rights (6).
The Romney Administration has not released much information regarding specific topics, like trafficking or AIDS/HIV, but focused more on changing the current method of aid to an economic/trade based program. While this blog only looks at the two primary parties candidates, there are several other third party presidential nominees on the ballot this year. I’d strongly encourage you to do a bit of your own research to find out which candidate most closely resembles what you hope to see in your President. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, remember that even if your candidate doesn’t win this November 6th, YOU have the power to influence our future president’s agenda. Use it. Write letters and emails, call in, stop by, make a petition… whatever it takes to make your voice known, because you have the power to make your priorities theirs. Always remember: this is a republic for the people, by the people. So go out there, vote your convictions and be the people who have a hand in how this government runs.
- Article by Lindsey Williams, Yobel Intern Fall 2012
One of the core tenets of the mission and heart behind what we do at Yobel Market is awareness. We strongly believe that awareness is the first step to action – by choosing to actively open our eyes and hearts to an area of injustice, we’ve already begun to put ourselves in the shoes of one who is able to make change. We hope and believe that awareness is a powerful tool in helping us become activists in whatever capacity life has for us.
One opportunity that Yobel provides for awareness, is sponsoring monthly documentary nights – we open these nights up to the community, choose a justice themed documentary to show, and have a bit of discussion afterwards. This month we chose to screen Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, an award-winning documentary that examines the most profitable business in the world: human trafficking. An issue that affects upwards of 27 million people today, human trafficking has become a human rights buzzword as governments and individuals alike begin to recognize how widespread and complex this issue truly is. Organizations like the Polaris Project, the International Justice Mission, the A21 Campaign, and the Somaly Mam Foundation are just a hand-full of the countless other organizations actively working to bring this issue to light and work with authorities around the world to stop this modern-day slavery.
Though human trafficking often seems localized to a specific area of the world, far removed from Western culture, Nefarious takes viewers from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Pattaya, Thailand to Amsterdam, Netherlands to Las Vegas, USA, capturing the magnitude and reach of human trafficking. The documentary makers present a powerful and often shocking picture by interviewing former victims, government officials, anti-trafficking experts, and even former traffickers, helping us gain a glimpse into the darkness that surrounds the international sex industry and the utter hopelessness that trafficking victims face.
It would be impossible to restate all the facts about human trafficking that the film presented, so we strongly encourage you to look into this issue for yourself. The organizations we mentioned above, as well as the Nefarious website, are full of information and resources to help you learn more about human trafficking. We would, however, like to emphasize some of the major points that the documentary brought up:
Human trafficking is big business. As one interview subject from the film phrased it, “If I sell a ‘key’ of cocaine, I sell it once. If I sell a woman’s body, I can sell her over and over for seven years, up to 20 – 30 times a night.” Treating the bodies of women as reusable commodities to be sold repeatedly provides traffickers and pimps the necessary incentive to keep their business hidden from the view of legitimate authorities in order to meet their insatiable greed.
Trafficking is cultural and political, as well as being deeply personal. I’ve often found that when trafficking comes up in conversation, the focus is almost always on the victim of trafficking. There is much discussion on appropriate rehabilitation/reintegration programs; organizations providing counseling, aftercare, skills training, and education to help victims of human trafficking adjust to a new life. But how much discussion, focus, and action are on the prevention of human trafficking? Nefarious presents an often-overlooked perspective of how corruption, government complicity and/or apathy, and familial/cultural norms can feed the human trafficking system.
There is hope. It’s easy for people to watch a documentary like Nefarious and think that nothing will ever change. We are here to say, along with the thousands of anti-trafficking initiatives across the globe, that there is much that can be done and that much is already being done. There is hope for the human trafficking victim – just as there is hope for the one doing the trafficking. Look around you; your community, your school, your local organizations, and yes, the Internet. There are fundraisers, anti-trafficking awareness races, aftercare programs, safe houses, donation drives, human trafficking reports, biographies of survivors, fair trade products that support former victims, and thousands of success stories that reaffirm the statement that there is hope in the face of this injustice.
Yobel Market is actively pursuing this hope for people across the globe. The question is – will you join us? Will you choose to be a part of that hope?
So, if I want a new shirt, is any one shirt better than another (ethically speaking)? Or should I prefer one type of coffee or chocolate over another? While you read this post, I want you to keep two questions in mind:
1) Why do people buy the things they buy?
2) Why do businesses provide the goods and services that they do?
For those of us that live in western society, we have both the luxury and burden to choose what we purchase. We are generally not told what to wear, what to eat, where to live, etc.
For this freedom of choice, we can thank a philosopher by the name of Adam Smith, the man who developed the modern idea of a free market economy. He answered the questions I posed using the metaphor of an “invisible hand” that would guide what was produced and provided.
Most simply described, Smith’s “invisible hand” theory states that if everyone would work to prioritize their own self-interest, they would automatically fulfill the needs and desires of others. Every person would aim to produce or provide products and services that were in demand, thereby making a profit from which to live. If everyone would work to do this, Smith predicted that society as a whole would be better off. He thought that if a product was desired, it would be created; however, if that product was not made well, someone else would improve upon it in order to compete with the original provider.
As I studied this economic theory in college, I was bothered that Smith so readily assumed everyone interacting with the market is doing so both legally and ethically. As many of us understand, this is often not the case. One need only remember the now well-known Enron scandal, or recall the child labor indictments against many clothing and shoe companies over the past decade to be convinced of this unfortunate truth.
One recent attempt to combat the free market’s potential for unjust business practices is the Fair Trade movement, an initiative proposing to guarantee fair labor practices, protection of the environment, worker rights and a livable wage standard when providing work to a labor force overseas. This has led to the recent “free trade vs. fair trade” debate which will be discussed in the remainder of this article.
If you are unversed in this debate, I will briefly summarize it here. Those who reside on the “free trade” side of the argument believe that the free market produces the optimal result in regards to international trade. Those in favor of free trade would say that companies are paying a fair wage for labor because they have offered a price that was accepted; if it was an unjust offer, the producers would have turned it down.
Those on the side of “fair trade” argue that this is not good enough. Just because we can hire workers overseas for such a low wage does not mean that we should. Just because workers will accept low-paying jobs, work long hours, utilize unsafe equipment, offer their children for employment, and surrender basic human rights does not justify the right of companies to exercise such low standards.
Imagine this scenario: My shirt company goes into a village and offers them work. The village doesn’t have any other option for work, and people are doing their best simply to survive. Perhaps these villagers are scrounging together $3 a week doing dangerous or unsanitary labor in order to feed their families. The company sees this and offers them a job for $0.10 an hour for forty hours a week. This will result in $4 a week earning potential. Therefore, they are better off—by one dollar and a 25% increase in wage. Most likely the villagers will accept this work because it is better than what they had. Is this okay? What if it costs $6 a week to keep the family healthy and the children in school?
As far as I can tell, there is no definite, objective cut off for what is fair and what is not. If there was, there would be no issue. It would be obvious what the best ethical conclusion would be and injustices would be easier to point out and reconcile. However, as there is not, many have sought to seek out perceived injustices in order to work toward a solution.
I have wrestled with the issue of mistreatment of overseas labor for quite some time, and I have found two things that are important to consider at this juncture. First, not all (or even most) companies act unethically. Second, when the companies that do act unethically make the decision to do so, it is because of a skewed values system that is, unfortunately, encouraged by the society that buys their product.
So what is this values system?
It is the simple desire to gain the most bang for our buck. For far too long we have operated in the free-market with the assumption that a good society results when we can buy the most amount of goods for the cheapest possible price. In fact, we are so used to the availability of cheap goods that we almost seem to consider access to them a right.
I believe this is causing us to tread on fairly thin ethical ice in many instances. The good news is that, according to economic theory, the market can be changed at any time by those who interact with it. There are two ways in which this can occur: first, products that are created, distributed, or used unethically can be boycotted. If this is done, companies must “change their ways” if they wish to continue making a profit.
Simply put, if a product that is created unethically is boycotted, there can be no market for the product, therefore no one will buy it. If no one will buy the products, then there is no incentive or benefit in creating the products. Thus, the product will cease to exist.
The second way to change the market is through a “buycott” - buying those products that are created ethically, even though their prices may be somewhat higher, and then finding methods of living with less materially—knowing that the things you do possess were created by businesses that value their workers and pay them fairly. This practice is very similar to government taxes and subsidies. The government heavily taxes what they want less of (i.e. cigarettes) and heavily subsidizes what they want more of (i.e. solar panels and other desirable advances in technology).
In order to change unethical business practices, we (like the government) must advocate for what we want more or less of with our dollars. We must be conscious of what we are supporting by spending money on goods and services.
I am an advocate of the free market system because of its potential to produce a good society if our “self-interest” were to include the best interest of others. Maybe “self-interest” doesn’t have to be limited to getting the most goods for the cheapest price. Maybe it could include
treating everyone involved in the process justly and with care.
Those who like what the fair trade movement is offering would like nothing more than to see the movement pass away. These people would like to see no more need for a free market alternative because the free market is operating at the same standards of the fair trade movement.
Until we get there, the Fair Trade standard is acting as a tutor/regulator, helping us along the way toward an economic system that will value the highest good; treating others the way that we desire to be treated. Fair Trade is a set of principles that, when acted upon, creates a rubric to measure the sustainability and social responsibility of our corporations. It is not a system we would advocate should replace the Free Market but rather teach it how to evolve into a better version of itself. Until the Free Market can catch up, however, it is the responsibility of the consumer to care for the unseen laborer, artisan and producer and to demand that those employing them do as well.
By Joseph Roberts, JBU Student and Yobel Intern Summer 2012
If you haven't heard it lately, you will soon. There is so much good material out there on the subject that I'm a bit hesitant to attempt an addition. But I keep having this same experience, and it makes me wonder if you are too. And if you are, you probably have had some of the same questions that I have, or perhaps you have not yet recognized it for what it is.
You see we think of trafficking as being an overseas phenomenon, something we can remain fairly insulated from by avoiding Asian and Eastern European countries. Some of us are becoming aware of the estimated 200,000 men, women and children thought to be enslaved within our own borders, but even still, we think of them as being streetwalkers or household workers, etc...
We don't think of them as being door to door salespeople.
Since opening the Yobel Boutique in Old Colorado City 2 years ago, I've been more and more exposed to a new (to me) and ugly side of exploitation that I never saw coming.
The traditional story typically looks like a teenager who walks into the shop holding a very tattered laminate sheet detailing the cause they are supporting with sales of some kind. It could be chocolates, it could be cleaning products or jewelry. It could actually be legit, but upon asking some questions, I typically find that these kids are far from home, working in a team of adolescents, highly mobile, and under the direction of an unseen adult who promises rewards for higher sales. After a barrage of questions during which I look up their sponsoring organization online, the young adult generally begins to run out of canned answers and I find that their representing agency either doesn't exist or is part of a religious cult. The scenario usually draws to a close as I explain to the solicitor that they do not have to be doing this if they don't want to be; that I have resources that will help them to be free from their mobile sales crew if they'd like. I hand them my information and immediately call the Human Trafficking Hotline in Colorado Springs.
Last month, it happened twice in one week to a Yobel volunteer named Meg. Here is what she experienced in her own words:
"As my friend and I were walking through the King Soopers parking lot in Colorado Springs after a shopping trip one afternoon, we were approached by two young men. My guess is that these guys were no older than 19. Each were dressed in baggy clothes, white baseball caps and gold chains. They asked for a moment of our time and launched into a spiel that was nothing if not completely rehearsed.
Before I knew it, they had separated my friend and I, and were speeding through the same monologue. One of the first things that my solicitor asked (and I could hear him asking the same thing to my friend) was if I was single. He proceeded to flirt with me and crack jokes about being my boyfriend.
After a few pick-up lines (which I overheard the other guy parroting simultaneously) he pulled out some poorly printed and laminated pamphlets. The literature was cluttered with pictures of different magazines. He explained very rapidly that if I signed up for a magazine subscription that it would lend him a certain number of points, and if at the end of the day he could collect the right amount he would be able to go on a trip to Rome.
At this point I was sure that it was not only a scam but a possible case of trafficking. I interrupted him and asked why he was going to Rome. He said something to the effect of, "Wouldn't you if you had the chance? Wanna go with me?" Wink wink. I asked him who he was going with to which he responded, "This guy!" pointing to the other young man.
I then asked who he was working for. He told me that the organization was called "Green Team" and was based out of Wheatridge, Colorado. He told me that his crew traveled all over the country doing this, staying in different hotels.After looking up "Green Team" when I got home I found nothing but a cleaning company. The organization was made up.
Every question I asked him that was not in reference to signing up for a magazine subscription seemed to trip him up. It was as if a wall would temporarily come down and he became a real person. His voice and countenance would change as he spoke more slowly and less rehearsed. But in an instant he switched "on" again and was throwing out cheesy pick-up lines and a bunch of convoluted information that didn't add up.
When I told him that I didn't have the money to sign up he went in another direction, explaining how one donation (preferably cash) would still give him points and give me a good feeling because it would provide magazines to Children's hospitals and deployed men and women in the Military. When I said no to all of it, he and his buddy eventually left.
Less than a week later I was walking through the mall in Denver when I was approached by another young man around the same age as the guys in Colorado Springs. He began the exact same speech. The first thing he did was look at my ring finger (which this time had a ring on it) and said, "Will your husband be mad that I'm talking to you?" When I said that he would, thinking it may put him off, he continued to flirt with me and use the same come-on's I had heard less than a week before.
He told me that he was training to be a DJ and that his boss wanted him to go out and talk to as many outgoing girls as he could for "training". He then talked about earning points to go on a trip to the Bahama's and proceeded to pull out magazine pamphlets identical to those I had seen previously. I told him that I'd already been approached by some guys the week before in Colorado Springs, to which he responded, "Who? I probably know them." I re-stated that they were in Colorado Springs and he said that he still probably knew them because they all travel the country together.
I tried to ask him why the other guys were going to Rome and he was going to the Bahama's, what school he went to etc., but his answers didn't align. He was selling the same exact thing in the same way, but for a different cause.
Walking away the second time I knew that something needed to be done to expose this possible form of trafficking. It is my heart to bring attention to this injustice and help others become aware of what they're really being sold. I want our nation to have ears to hear the silent cries of those who are being mistreated in our own cities around this country."
The definition of human trafficking is: The illegal trade in human beings for the purposes
of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor: a modern-day slave.
Do these magazine and candy crews fit the bill? I'm no FBI agent, but my gut says yes.
It is a situation where young adults and teenagers are working under poor labor conditions, far from home, separated from family and loved ones, constantly moving around the nation, required to attain a certain number of sales, often indebted to their "bosses," and typically physically, verbally and sometimes sexually abused on their crew. If they don't perform or choose to rebel against their situation, they can be left stranded without a penny to their name and no way of getting home, often addicted to drugs they were introduced to on their tour.
In doing a bit of research, I came across this site: MagCrew.com. I urge you to take a look at some of their True Stories to get a vivid picture of what these crew members experience on a daily basis. Although some crews are legitimate up-standing businesses and provide a good source of income to those who are employed by them, the vast majority sound like something I'd do anything to protect these kids from.
So what to do if you find yourself in a situation similar to Meg's?
1) Ask the solicitor questions, throw off their routine. You want to get as much information as you can from these kids.
Where are you from?
How long have you been doing this?
What happens if you make all your sales today?
What happens if you don't?
What cities have you been to recently?
Where do you think you'll go next?
Do you like your crew?
How about your boss?
Where is your boss? Van? How are you getting around?
Do you like this job?
If you could be doing anything else to earn money, what would you want to be doing?
How long do you plan to remain with this crew?
Do your family or friends know where you are?
What is your name?
Would you leave if you could?
How old are you?
2) If they open up to you (which they probably won't) ask their permission to write down some of their answers.
3) If they want out, their largest barrier is probably their fear of the crew bosses and the debt or illicit activities that are being held over their heads, as well as shame or fear of returning to their families. You can reassure them that the law will be on their side and that the debts they are threatened with violate labor laws and will not be enforced.
4) Keep a few copies of the Human Trafficking Hotline (either local or national) in your wallet or purse and hand out along with some change to make a phone call if they want out. They can also seek assistance from the local police which you can offer to help them with.
5) If you are convinced this is a situation that is exploitative, make mental note of as many details as possible, write them down immediately, and call the Human Trafficking Hotline yourself to make a report. This helps the area police and local networks track potential crime ring activity as well as track down runaways. One of the most difficult parts of bringing traffickers to justice is a lack of confirmed evidence. According to one New York Times article quoting Connie Knutti, a former investigator for the Illinois Department of Labor, “The local police can’t keep up because the crews leave the state before
they get alerted and the feds don’t bother with them because they say
it is a state’s issue." If enough similar incidents are reported it can help the authorities to track and locate criminals and recognize potential crime rings on a more national level.
The largest contributing factor to trafficking cases being successfully prosecuted within the United States is lay-reporting. Meaning You and I have the largest responsibility when it comes to seeing criminals held accountable for their abuses in this horrible crime. I hope that this will shed a little light on a prolific and yet rarely spoken about form of exploitation and that you will feel empowered to act if you encounter it in your neighborhood.
So that's me there on the left. Hanging out in Colorado with my friend Lindsey. I really should've been more professional and chosen a photo of just me, or one with my business partner Donavan - something that's been edited for goodness' sake. But I liked this one.
This is the unlikely story of me, and how I came to be working a job that I love more and more everyday as co-owner of Yobel Market.
Once upon a time, I was born in the small town of Peculiar, Missouri. "How strange," you say - and you would be right. While we're at it, please understand that it's not Missour-uh mind you. It is Missour-ee. We Midwesterners can be particular about this.
I was firstborn in a great family (not without issues of course) and was privy to a childhood filled with summer's out-of-doors, cut-off from television and air conditioning, and spent instead rummaging around in a creek somewhere or destroying an unfortunate neighbor's bale of hay....
On the rare occasion that television was on the docket, I can remember watching those child-sponsorship-style commercials with little African babies, bellies all distended, flies forever stuck in the corners of eyeballs and thinking in my 10-year-old mind 'Why is this happening?'
This seemed to develop into a theme over the next few years. I still think about the evenings spent crying into my pillow about Desert Storm in middle school and being distraught over the homeless population of our nation's capital during a 6th-grade trip to DC.
In high school, I discovered a lot of things: dancing, boys, theater, dressing-up and Jesus, among others. That last bit was the best part, and sure did make me a new person. Love changed me from the kid that snuck around lying about why I was late for curfew into the teen who volunteered to do the dishes and invited my younger sister to hang out on the weekends. That may not seem like much of a serious transformation, but if you doubt me, just talk to my mother.
In college, I volunteered a lot helping out high school kids who struggled with their identities just like I had. I also studied theatre for awhile until they asked me to take my clothes off on-stage, at which point I turned down a lead role and quit the program. I came to my advisor quite a mess, bearing the yellow slip that threatened to throw me out of school if I didn't settle on a major (sound familiar?) and was given a novel idea. "Why not study what you like?" Dr. Browning inquired. Which classes did I enjoy? That was easy. I loved anything pertaining to religious, ethical, and spiritual thought. So I became a Religious Studies major - mostly because I wanted to know why I believed what I believe, and definitely because the Philosophy classes were way over my head. I mean in a world where there are believed to be thousands of gods, I wanted to put a little research into the one I was going to follow, but I didn't want to spend hours talking about the state of my being. Luckily, my parents never asked what I planned to do with my degree.
Throughout my coursework, I began to consume the writings and memoirs of activists - Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Desmond Tutu, William Wilberforce among them. I was fascinated with radical living, I think mostly because of a deep rooted fear of living a mediocre life. These leaders challenged me because they were so completely SOLD OUT in loving others at their own expense, challenging us not to give only out of our excess, but out of our poverty as well.
I wasn't there yet.
So my junior year of college, I heard what I believed to be God's voice telling me I would spend the year after I graduated overseas. I thought that meant India at the time, and wrote a letter to the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata asking if I could come. Being the archaic period pre-dating email (at least in the offices of Kolkata), I received a hand-written letter in reply nearly 2 months later inviting me to show up at a certain bus station at a certain time. I would be picked up by a sister and taken to the birth place of Mother Theresa's lifework in loving the dying and destitute.
So I graduate in 2003 with a BA in Religious Studies, a mockery of a Spanish minor and a required Global Studies minor (thank-you Drury). The following September, I did leave for 8 months to travel around the globe and do my idealistic best to "change the world." Better judgment kept me from traveling to India alone and instead I gained the opportunity to journey with 2 dear friends overseas. I think my mother started coloring her hair that year as her eldest travelled to East Africa for 5 months, then on to Thailand and Cambodia, finishing up with a partially solo hitchhike around Australia and New Zealand. In that time I called home exactly once, just before spending Christmas on top of Kilimanjaro.
That adventure was the third most life-changing event of my now 30 years. I wrestled with my belief in a good God, I struggled with the lack of human response to poverty, I wept each day as I watched beautiful Thai women selling their bodies to 50 yr-old white men with paunchy bellies and Hawaiian shirts. I wrestled hard and came home a good deal skinnier, wearing worn out Chacos, and embodying a sense of peace that was noticeably different.
Three years later, I crossed the ocean a second time with a husband fresh off the altar and a couple of 18-year-old kids from Colorado. We spent about a month between Uganda and Kenya, and it was there that I met the young Ugandan man that would inspire me to help start businesses around the world.
Six months later Donavan and I found ourselves becoming re-aquainted over a cup of coffee, discussing a shoebox full of bamboo and a business card from Dave & Morgan Hansow of Light Gives Heat. The bamboo jewelry was supposed to help fund a youth club in Jinja and Dave and Morgan were going to teach us how. This sweet couple spent hours on the phone answering our legal-pad-worth of questions (did I mention Donavan and I have one intro to business course between us?) and then allowed us to consign some of their beautiful Ugandan paper beads to help us get going. Some high school students bought Donavan and I a pop-up tent and a friend lent us some tables and there we were, in business. A summer's worth of farmer's markets allowed us to buy into 2 other freedom initiatives, expanding our line and adding to our stories.
And astonishingly, it began to grow by the grace of God and the kindness of friends. In the process I developed an incredible love for our artisan partners globally, and a deep gratitude toward my business partner along with our volunteers and supporters. I also gained less-fulfilling relationships with the Secretary of State, the Department of Revenue, Liability Insurance, and a very nice non-profit lawyer named Dustin. At the end of the day, however, we were able to open a brick-and-mortar in Old Colorado City with a really fun product line made fairly all around the world. My sister Megan is looking pretty good in some some fairly made clothing and accessories below...
My eyes still glaze over when people (aka my husband) start talking about profit and loss statements, branding, Quickbooks, marketing strategy, search engine optimization and merchant services. Can I say that I hate that stuff?
I hate that stuff.
Tax week is literally the darkest 14 days of my year. Yes that's right, it takes me 2 weeks (slightly above the national average).
Really, when it comes down to it, I have none of the typical skills required to run a business. Twelve times a day I think to myself, "now who can I get to do that for me?" Not because I don't want to do it (most of the time) but because I'm just not altogether equipped. That's where the joy of partnership comes in. We are so loved by so many, and those friends give us their time and gifts and talents to make us much more than we could be otherwise.
So be encouraged because that old American adage of "Follow Your Dreams" is true! At the risk of sounding a bit like I'm blowing sunshine you-know-where, if someone like me can run a business, you can build a building, be a famous actor, or raise amazing kids. Most of us were born in the land of opportunity for goodness' sake. It would be a shame to waste all of that "opportunity." Even those of us struggling with deep opposition still have access to clean water, free education, a-not-entirely-corrupt government, and social services. We are all made for something unique, and as my friend Robin says, we are created to do something so specific that the world literally will lack if we don't do it. So please, do what you are made to do! If I have learned anything from 4 years of unlikely entrepreneurship, it is that although ideas are a dime a dozen, very rare are those with the courage to act on them. Those of us who do, need only begin to put one foot in front of the other, and ask for a lot of help along the way. If you need someone to cheer you on, call me. I'll be here with pom poms and a pep-talk. Great risk can lead to great reward.
March is an interim month in Colorado. A pause between winter and summer. A time to travel, if you're into the shoulder season that is.
9 of us (8 women and 1 courageous man) flew out of Denver and took the 24 hour flight to Uganda. For some of us, this was our 3rd or 4th journey, but for many it was the first time setting foot in the glory of Africa. Our purpose was to Encounter, to Expose, and to be Enthralled. Our method was an entrepreneurial business training, development of existing tailoring and jewelry businesses, the completion of a school, and the encouragement of men and women and being transformed by hope. Three weeks of beauty, joy, and the sharing in others' suffering are chronicled here.
Above, two women enjoy piping hot African tea during a break from business training. They rest against the brilliant orange wall of a recently finished vocational training school that houses a tailoring room and adult literacy class between farming activities.
Below, some of our favorite images of "The Farm" as we commonly refer to it. A boy heading for home after pumping the evening's water, two small friends: Mary and Susan, patiently playing while their mother attends business school, a woman grinding peanuts into butter.
Next, our Entrepreneurial Training Course taking place in the adult literacy room in the Vocational Training Center. The class was originally supposed to allow for 35 students, but due to an incredibly eager crowd, we graduated 59! You can see the room broken into 7 different table groups where we processed information as teams. Of the 7 groups, 5 were Acholi speaking and 2 spoke Swahili; 80% were women. As a result, we required 9 translators in order to deliver the material effectively.
It was truly encouraging to watch the progress of our table groups throughout the 6 day course. The first day, entrepreneurs were hesitant to speak out, to answer questions, to volunteer or offer ideas. As time went on, you saw the light of comprehension come into their eyes, you watched as concepts took root and the real possibility for change begin to produce hope.
Each entrepreneur received a Certificate for their accomplishment. These certificates could mean the difference in attaining entrance to university level education or even a future job. They were so proud to receive them. This is our Graduating Class of 2012!
Tailoring Class at Canaan Farm - 18 Women learning to sew
in order to clothe their families and earn additional income. This
project currently doubles their agrarian based salaries. While visiting in March, one of our team members, Angela Tingle, taught a
color compilation class as well as 3 new patterns for clothing items
that we are now carrying as a part of the Yobel Apparel line.
Buy a Goat: Give a Goat
A woman receives her goat as a part of the Livestock program run by Yobel. Throughout the year, customers have the opportunity to "buy a goat" on behalf of themselves or a loved one. Each goat costs $35 US dollars and translates to a living, breeding, milk-producing, fertilization machine for a family in Uganda or Rwanda. This March we had the gift of going to "goat auction" with the locally formed Goat Committee made up of villager leaders from Canaan Farm to purchase goats on behalf of the 51 entrepreneur families that graduated from the Business Course.
These goats will be little bleating investments for the entrepreneur's personal businesses. Each offspring is a tiny savings account that will continue to keep the grass at a manageable level until it is needed to provide a source of income or protein. The gifted goats will also provide the local teachers' salaries at our brand new Primary School through a "pay-it-forward" system initiated by the village leader, Richard Angoma. The first born female of every goat will be given to Canaan Farm to support the teacher's salary. The second will be passed to a neighbor in need who was not a previous recipient.
An Incredible Team
Our amazing team members made this an incredible experience. Each
person brought so many valuable gifts and beautiful pieces of themselves
to Africa. They offered all they had without holding back. Each was recompensed
beyond anything they ever asked or imagined; one look at their faces reveals the joy of Africa written there.
The Primary School is finally finished!
While at Canaan, we had the opportunity to meet the families whose children would attend classes here. There are over 50 families with hope for their young ones realized in this building. So many of you have placed the very bricks into this School as you have purchased bamboo earrings, bought brick cards, attended benefits and come alongside us physically on African soil.
We cannot thank-you enough for your support, your warm wishes, prayers, and hopes for us on this trip. The seeds planted here will bear much fruit for many generations!
Hello there conscientious consumer! You have come to a place of beautifully created goods exemplifying incredible craftsmanship from around the world. Each hand-picked gift bears the story of an individual on a journey out of poverty and exploitation, into freedom and dignity. We hope you will enjoy connecting with our global community as you peruse our fairly-traded, sustainably created wares while considering those who are behind them.