As Fair Trade Month [October] approaches, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on my summer experience. I am a student at Manchester College and participated in a summer service project called Pathways. I was placed at SERRV in Madison, Wisconsin as a marketing intern. I was going to be living on my own in a big city where I knew no one. Little did I know how much I would actually appreciate this experience later.
Just a little history behind SERRV, for those of you who are not aware. SERRV was started in 1949 by members of the Church of the Brethren as a way to help refugees in Europe after the war. People bought products in Europe then brought them back to America and sold them in a little gift shop in New Windsor, Maryland. The store grew in popularity, and SERRV was started! SERRV remained under the church until about 10 years ago, when it split off into its own entity. Okay, so there’s more to the story, but that’s a long story cut real, real short. SERRV is a fair trade non-profit, and for those of you who are not aware of what fair trade is, it’s a way to support artisans and farmers around the world by creating a fair wage. That’s also a very short definition.
Growing up, I was aware of SERRV. My grandmother would have me look at the catalog and tell her if there was anything I would like to have from it. I always thought the products were so beautiful, even though I didn’t know the full story behind where the products were made. It wasn’t until later that I realized that SERRV was religiously founded and I fully understood the concept of fair trade. There’s just something so rewarding when buying a fair trade product; each piece of jewelry, every basket, all musical instruments are different. They are like snowflakes, none are identical and that’s something you won’t find in the mass produced crafts. Not only are the products beautiful and unique, it also helps people that you have never met. Part of the enjoyment that I find in buying SERRV products is the knowledge that I am helping someone with my need for a new wallet or craving for some chocolate. The service aspect of fair trade is important to me.
I grew up in the Church of the Brethren. I was always taught to consider others around you, including folks you didn’t know. I think that ideal has an important play in why members of the denomination decided to start the International Gift Shop back in 1949. Service has always played a part in various projects supported by members of the Church of the Brethren. Dan West founded Heifer International to help feed the poor, volunteers spend their time cleaning up and building homes through Brethren Disaster Ministries, and many service projects throughout WWII and through today’s youth and young adults at conferences.
After interning at SERRV for a summer, I find myself immensely proud in the work these people do, and I am a proud member of the denomination that founded SERRV. I like to live the line “show Christ’s love through your actions,” and that is what these people are doing and what a consumer does when they purchase a fair trade product. So the next time you buy a Divine chocolate bar, even when you don’t really need one, smile and take pride in the fact that you just helped someone attend school, buy clothes or simply, live.
As a young adult in the church today and also in the world, I try my best to get the word of fair trade out there. I’m currently studying in Northern Ireland for the semester through BCA. I see fair trade everywhere! I was told this summer by my boss that Europe has caught the fair trade bug, and I just wonder why America hasn’t. The products are so beautiful, amazing, tasty and unique. So go ahead, buy that Divine chocolate bar; the people of Ghana greatly appreciate it.
SERRV has a facebook page. Become a fan today!
Hi, my name is Julia Largent. I'm a junior at Manchester College double majoring in Peace Studies and Communication Studies. I'm a member of the Church of the Brethren. =]