Blog #19 | Trade as a Force for Positive Change

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Blog #19 | Trade as a Force for Positive Change

From mitigating poverty, to upholding humane working conditions, to promoting environmentally conscious production methods—there are so many reasons to buy fair trade goods. However, sometimes it can be difficult to be certain of a product’s origins and its journey to our shopping carts. Consumers deserve to know exactly what they’re buying and what they’re supporting, which is why Totonga Bomoi is thrilled to be a new member of the Fair Trade Federation! After a lengthy 18-page-long application and rigorous verification process, we are proud that every item you purchase from our artisans is ethically-sourced in accordance with the highest of standards. We know there are a lot of certification organizations and programs out there, but nothing can beat the legitimacy and steadfast commitment of the Fair Trade Federation. Our acceptance as a verified FTF member reflects our deep commitment to the principles and values of fair trade.

One of these values is Trade as a Force for Positive Change. As the FTF describes:

We value trading relationships that distribute power, risks and rewards more equitably. We believe that trade should be used as a tool to help alleviate poverty, reduce inequality, and create opportunities for people to help themselves. Trade should promote fair compensation, safe and healthy conditions, direct and long-term relationships, transparent business practices, and workplaces free from discrimination and forced child labor. When trade encompasses these practices, the lives of all people and their communities improve.

People thrive when there is ample space for empowerment, and we must all work together to protect that space. It’s critical to recognize that in our global economy, the products we buy and sell are connected to the livelihoods of others. The FTF works closely on the ground with producers and verifies transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure the individuals producing Fair Trade Certified goods are working in safe conditions, building sustainable livelihoods, and earning a substantial income that not only allows them to invest in their lives and their work—but also uplifts their communities.

We are overjoyed to be part of a movement dedicated to the most rigorous standards of fair trade and the pursuit of a more just and sustainable world. Learn more about verified FTF members and the principles of fair trade here.

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Blog #18 | How Cancer Connected Me to Congo

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Blog #18 | How Cancer Connected Me to Congo

My husband and I were in one of the most beautiful places we had ever visited when we discovered the lump in my breast. As we lay in our bungalow on Lake Atitlán in the middle of Guatemala, my heart sank into my stomach and a wave of anxiety hit me when I first felt it. It was the size of a grape—probably just a cyst, I told myself. It couldn’t be cancer. I was 29, a nonsmoker, vegan, and had no family history of breast cancer that I was aware of.

In December 2017 just after Christmas, I was diagnosed with invasive stage 3 breast cancer. My world was turned upside down as I was thrown into a multitude of tests and screenings before starting an intense neoadjuvant chemotherapy regimen. I was lucky the cancer hadn’t spread, despite my tumor having rapidly grown beyond an innocent lump. But, due to a genetic mutation, I learned I have an increased risk of recurrence and ovarian cancer. I clumsily prepared to lose my hair, and eventually both of my breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. As I struggled to get used to this new reality, I wondered how so many women have managed to power through and come out the other end confident and cancer-free.

Fortunately, I found a breast cancer support group in my area for young women. After going to my first meeting and unloading all of the questions, concerns, and various other emotional ramblings I had bottled up—I felt an immense sense of relief that I was not alone. One woman around my age who had finished chemo brought all of her old headwraps and caps she had accumulated over the course of her treatment. She encouraged the baldies in the room to take anything they could use. As I dug around in her stash, a bright, beautiful splash of color caught my eye. I pulled out a blue, green, and gold printed headwrap and tried it on. I loved the way it looked on me and how simple it was to adjust and tie. I looked at the tag to see which company produced it, and that’s how I first discovered Totonga Bomoi.

As someone who is passionate about investing time, energy, and resources into empowering others to thrive in this life, I was overjoyed to learn about everything Totonga Bomoi is doing to support such talented artisans and entrepreneurs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I realized the headwrap I wore to protect my awkward bald head was more than just an accessory—it was both a symbolic and tangible outcome of a creative, resilient community working towards economic justice. This inspired me to purchase a second headwrap, as well as a third for a friend who is also going through cancer at a young age.

When I think about the values I share with Totonga Bomoi—community, education, dignity, compassion, creativity—I feel grateful for the twist of fate that has allowed me to contribute to their mission. Instead of sinking into a dark space of perpetual worry and fear of the unknown, I focus on appreciating what each day has to offer. The Totonga Bomoi artisans motivate me to stay inspired, stay creative, and keep fighting—and I’ll always cherish the brightly colored pagne that connects me to them from across the world.

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Blog #17 | Luke 10: 25-37

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Blog #17 | Luke 10: 25-37

A young man in Congo approached our cooperative for help this week. He had never attended school. He had no home, no food, and no money. Mama Aroyo told me when he knocked on the door of our shop it was as if Christ himself came begging. She and the other women of our cooperative welcomed him in and offered to teach him some basic sewing skills. He is now a part of our community. Everyday, he has a group of joyful young ladies who talk with him, teach him, laugh with him, and care for him. And I think to myself: Who am I that God has put these women in my life? See how easy they love and serve others when they themselves live in poverty. My heart is full. 

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Blog #16 | Hope

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Blog #16 | Hope

"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness." 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Africa is as unpredictable as ever. It's my 5th time to the continent (4th to DRC) and being surrounded by such extreme poverty, I feel defeated. Our cooperative is wonderful in many ways though still there is room to grow as far as bookkeeping and inventory tracking are concerned, but when I look around it's all so gloom...malaria, illness, death, starvation, roadside killings, and hardly any employment opportunities. Several times a day, individuals, who know about our cooperative, and want me to help them find a good job or tell them how to create a social enterprise, approach me. It's inspiring but at the same time I feel so overwhelmed.

My trip this summer challenged me greatly. Everyday in Congo I encountered young men and women from our village asking for assistance. They want to start a business or improve their current trade by taking our business training. Yet they also need computers to open Internet cafes, generators to increase production at the local bakery, and science books for medical students. The list is endless, and I've often found myself in the position of being the only one they can ask.  

Among many questions, I continue to ask myself how do we fit into all this? Where do we begin? And, will it ever be enough? When we start to see ourselves as the answer to the sufferings of others, we lose sight of authentic, human development. Development is not exclusive to improving the economic plight of the poor, though it is certainly one aspect, but rather we are called to something greater.

We are called to purposeful and fruitful relationships. I have learned one of the best ways we can do this is to simply begin with what we know - our talents. We acknowledge and embrace them not for our own benefit but for the good of others. When we do this, our capacity to impact those we love grows and we are inspired to give with joy. Our gifts will be constantly manifested and emboldened through our relationships, and so long as we have one another, there will always be hope. 

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Blog #15 | Small Acts Transform The World

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Blog #15 | Small Acts Transform The World

"Eduction is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to the next."

G.K. Chesterton

While many of our dreams have become a reality, our work in Congo has only just begun. It’s time we connect more Congolese artisans and entrepreneurs to global consumers so that families and communities everywhere can thrive. The next generation has a great opportunity to spread positive social change. Just take a look at the awesome impact made by the kids from East Cooper Montessori in South Carolina.

Every year, the Montessori Model UN (MMUN) invites students from across the country to participate in simulations at UN Headquarters in NYC. Students come to learn and exercise public speaking, debating, critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership skills.

Students are then assigned to represent the identity and interests of different nations. They come together to address and solve issues regarding peace and security, human rights, the rights of the child, child labor, the environment, food and hunger, economic development and globalization. The ultimate purpose of MMUN is to inspire youth to create a better world. And the kids from East Cooper Montessori did just that.

These young professionals wore their artisan made products throughout the UN halls and meeting rooms that week. As we continue to connect Congolese artisans and their handmade products to consumers in the U.S., our mission grows to impact the next generation of change-makers because not only did these young students discuss issues of health, security, and literacy that week, they provided it! 

Thank You East Cooper Montessori!!

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