Shopping with a conscience at Global Gifts 

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click to enlarge The Fair Trade Chain - Click to expand. - ASHA PATEL
  • The Fair Trade Chain - Click to expand.
  • Asha Patel

To Peru

While most parents would hesitate to take their 2-year-old on an international trip for even a week, Sam and Alison eagerly anticipated the opportunity to travel with Simon for their year abroad.

The Carpenter-Schumacher family left Indiana in September 2011. After packing up their toddler, they moved out of their Rocky Ripple home, which was rented to another family, stored their belongings and carried just six suitcases with them.

"I remember thinking - when we were getting ready to leave and it was a really hectic time because we were moving stores and essentially opening a new store for Global Gifts [in Bloomington] - that when I got on the plane, there would be this big sigh of relief and have this nice relaxed experience," says Sam. "It wasn't like that. There wasn't ever a period of not having responsibility, because of Simon."

They didn't anticipate the impact Simon would have on their trip.

"Simon has blond hair - white blond hair," Alison says. "So he stood out; people would always say, 'Ay, que lindo!' ('Ah, how cute!' about Simon, and reach over and tousle his hair. Once we started our volunteer work, and we were going through different parts of Lima in a lot of places where they don't typically see tourists, let alone gringos, he really drew a lot of attention. I really think that people took us under their wing because they loved Simon."

"So many times, we would be visiting artisans and there would be kids around and Simon would be playing with the kids while we talked," says Alison.

The blondie jumped into interactions with artisans, their families, strangers in the park, vendors at the local market, everywhere.

"I am amazed at the ease at which Simon makes friends. And his smile seems to win folks over with no trouble at all," Sam wrote on Nov. 2 of last year on his blog.

Simon was a tiny, blond, human icebreaker.

click to enlarge The Carpenter-Schumacher family - KRISTEN PUGH

"That was a really good door-opener," says Sam. "He would play with the kids and the artisans would smile and like that. It made it easier for us to [begin to work with them]."

Getting to the artisans was no easy task. Lima is a large, sprawling metropolis where one-third of the population of the country resides.

Metropolis

"Lima is so big," Alison says. "Official estimates are around 8 or 9 million, but there's a lot of people who aren't counted because they're living in these shanty towns in the middle of the city where people have taken over a sand dune or a mountain that has zero services. But they've just squatted there, and over time the government will build stairs or [start] running electrical lines, and over a long period of time it just becomes part of the city. But those people are just not counted [in official censuses], but when you put those folks in, it's really like 13 or 14 million people."

The Carpenter-Schumacher family stayed in Miraflores, one of 43 densely populated districts in the city.

"We lived in a part of the city where most of the expats lived," says Alison. "If you worked for the embassy, our neighborhood was where they would assign housing."

The expat community, while not unwelcoming, wasn't sharing the same kind of experience as the Carpenter-Schumacher family.

"We had a big affection for Lima and Peru; we saw parts of Lima and Peru that most people never ever see, and a lot of poverty," Alison says. "The expat community, housing was provided for them, a car was provided for them, a driver was provided for them. It was very possible for them to live in a bubble. I felt uncomfortable ... sometimes because they would say things like, 'I can't wait to get out of this hellhole' or 'I can't wait to get back to civilization.' I would feel so offended for the people of Lima that we were living with and near and appreciating the opportunity to get to know. This is civilization, for 14 million people."

The huge expanse of the city and the complicated mass of public transport - the Carpenter-Schumacher family relied on public transportation almost exclusively during their time in Lima - meant traveling to visit the artisans was a huge part of the job.

"Routinely, it would take a couple hours getting there, and we'd spend a couple hours with the artisans, and then spend a couple hours getting back," says Alison. "That was just how it was. You were just sitting on a bus with everybody else sitting on a bus."

Their home base was Manos Amigas, a small operation founded by a brother and sister - Yannina and Roberto Meza - and their foreign-born spouses. A few women are employed part-time at the organization, but the two families take on the bulk of the work. These two families live in an apartment in the same building where the Carpenter-Schumacher family were living - and their office was just across the street.

During their time in Peru, Alison and Sam split a work-share position, assisting Yannina and Roberto in the office, managing their exports, visiting the artisans and even building the organization a new website.

And there's a lot to do. Manos Amigas works with more than 70 family workshops and six artisan associations, and donates 20 percent of its profits to social welfare projects including scholarships and a food program for poor youth in Peru.*

"Our main project was doing these stories," Sam says. "If we do a day of artisan visits, visiting two or three workshops in a day, it would take us several days to compile our notes and cull our photos from several hundred, then place them within the story. We edited each other's work. It would take us about a week to create the story."

They also helped create a catalogue for the non-profit. It organizes the goods that Manos Amigas offers from artisans into a much easier format for potential clients (like Global Gifts and Ten Thousand Villages, another fair trade organization) to select from.

When speaking to me about their time in Peru, Sam and Alison trade words back and forth about their travels, finishing each other thoughts easily. It is obvious that the sabbatical, although officially set up for Sam's job, was truly a family experience. They returned rejuvenated and ready to impact Indianapolis positively with the lessons from their travels.

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