Hello and Happy New Year! I’m so looking forward to the year ahead and am excited about discovering what God has planned for all of our lives. As always, my hope is that Every (1) Matters will be a place where you find information, inspiration and encouragement helping you to always say “yes” to the whisper urging you to make a difference.
What better way to kick off the year than by chatting with Ros Jamieson, a woman making a notable difference in the lives of thousands. After witnessing poverty first hand, Ros began selling Fair Trade products by party plan – yep you read it right, just like Tupperware and Nutrimetics – but with some major differences. In her own words, Ros is “Just an ordinary woman doing something a little bit different.”
I had the privilege of chatting with Ros earlier this week;
Where did the idea of selling Fair Trade products through party plans come from?
We went to Hong Kong Crossroads International in October 2009 and we were face to face with the needs of the poor. Crossroads had a Global Handicraft Shop there (providing employment and income for people living in poverty) which I was very interested in (I used to work as a diversional therapist and I like to do a bit of craft). Then we did a ‘Basti Life’ which is basically when you stay in a simulated slum for a period of time. We had to make paperbags to survive, just like many of the people living in poverty in Hong Kong do. It’s a simulated experience but it was very well done and it really affected me. Our friend Helen Mottee sang her song ‘Don’t Tell Me’ at the end of the experience. Hearing that song in that setting made me realise I had to do something.
When we returned to Australia I just got this wonderful idea – a God idea – to start Hands & Hearts Fair Trade party plans! I got in touch with Crossroads and Josh Begbie from the Global Handicraft Shop and started ordering stock from them. I started with 8 countries and 11 groups, now I work with 11 countries and 25 groups.
How does it work?
The concept is to have a party and encourage everyone to really think about the poor. We make paper bags, like the ones made in Hong Kong and I ask the hostess to serve something really simple like boiled rice or in-season fruit. We just drink water and Fair Trade tea and coffee. I set up the stock and explain the story behind the product. There is no personal gift for the hostess – instead they receive a useful gift from TEAR to the value of 5% of the party sales with a card telling them where their toilet is or whatever. The parties are meant to be really simple so we can think about the poor.
The first party was in March 2010 and by the time I finished in December I’d done 57 parties and sold 3982 products. God has blessed it and it has really grown. I don’t have to ask people if they’d like to do a party, they ask me if I’ll come and do one. I’ve had a wonderful year!
What impact has Hands & Hearts had on the poor?
Most workers are paid by piece which can last them up to a week. Many are paid very well, for example, the people who make jewellery in Klong Toey, Bangkok make twice the minimum wage per piece (when you hear it like that, 3982 products sold in a year can really make a difference!) Also, over 1000 Australians learned more about poverty through Hands & Hearts last year.
Can you tell us more about where you source the products from?
China Deaf Community – Workers produce beautiful pieces by putting to use their machine sewing and hand embroidery skills.
Eden Ministry – Ex prostitutes work to create beautiful pieces of jewelleryand are given medical care, shelter and training.
Klong Toey Handicrafts – Set up by Australian couple Ash and Anji Barker (visit their website to see their interview with Channel 7’s Sunrise). They live with their children in the Klong Toey slum along with 80 000 other people. Klong Toey Handicrafts produces handmade jewellery.
How do you keep from being discouraged by the enormity of poverty?
I once heard a story about a little boy who was walking along a beach strewn with starfish which had been washed up on the shore. He started picking them up, one at a time and throwing them back into the sea. An old man came along and asked him what he was doing. “I’m throwing them back in so they don’t die,” the little boy replied. “Why? Look how many there are! You can’t make a difference you know,” the old man said. The little boy picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean and replied, “I made a difference to that one.”
It happens one person at a time.
I was lucky enough to be given some of Ros’ products for Christmas; beautiful silver jewellery and a notebook. The jewellery pieces each had cards telling the story of the person who made them and the notebook had a photo and the name of the beautiful woman who made it. Here are the stories behind my new jewellery, with thanks to Eden Ministries:
Her mother owns two brothels in two different villages. When her daughter turned 14 she took her out of school as she felt educating girls was a waste of time and sent her to the city, to her aunt to learn the trade of being a prostitute. We knew her aunt through our brothel outreach programme. She asked us if we could help Xiao Ling. So we collected her from the brothel before the aunt changed her mind. She has now been sponsored to complete her high school, and is getting good grades.
At the age of 19, Li Zhan was raped. She was left confused and suffering the psychological effects of the rape. In her confusion, she thought if she married the man that raped her it would somehow make it better. So she sought him out and asked if he would make it right by marrying her.
They married and it quickly turned disastrous. He was often drunk and beat her repeatedly. After they had been married two months, Li Zhan could not bear the beatings anymore and left. After three days, she returned for some of her things and found her husband dead. He had committed suicide.
Filled with guilt and self hatred, Li Zhan believed that she had caused her husband’s death. She decided that prostitution was all she was good for and started to work in a brothel. After a short time she was arrested and put into prison.
In prison, Li Zhan was abused by some of the prison wardens. They cut her hair off and constantly mocked her. In her grief she began to think of ways to kill herself; wondering if there was any reason to keep on living.
One day, out of the blue, her name was called out during visitation hours. She looked through the bars at unfamiliar but friendly faces. They introduced themselves as women from Eden Ministries.
These visitors made her feel a glimmer of hope for the first time since childhood. She began to believe that her life could change becaue of the God in heaven who understood her pain, loved her and wanted to give her a new life. Delighted with this realization, a short time later she trusted Jesus and started to read scripture verses that had been smuggled into prison.
She began to pray with other girls in the prison and was soon running a small fellowship group. Two months ago Li Zhan was released from prison. Together with four other women, she came to live in Eden’s shelter. Li Zhan continues to visit other girls in prison, bringing them the message of hope.
I hope you feel as inspired as I do by Ros’ initiative! If you want to host a Hands & Hearts party or would like more information, please contact Ros here.