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Empowering women, changing lives: Fair Trade meets Mother Theodore

As Fair Trade is my passion and life’s mission and Providence is my community, it is not difficult for me to find a connection between the two. Though separated by culture and continents and a century-and-a-half, 12 women changed the course of their respective communities by working to improve the lives of women and girls.

You might know well the story of Saint Mother Theodore, Sister St. Vincent, Sister Basilide, Sister Olympiade, Sister Mary Ligouri, and Sister Mary Xavier, who left their native France for the forests of Indiana to found a community and establish an academy for girls. But, do you know the story of Alice, Elizabeth, Emma, Esther, Florence, and Hannah, who came together to promote gender equity in their native Ghana through education and employment?

Trained as batikers and seamstresses, they struggled to support their families and establish sustainable businesses because they lacked a market for their products. In 2003, they joined together to form Global Mamas to produce and export textile products under a common brand.

Global Mamas believes that the most effective way for women to achieve prosperity is to gain economic independence through sustainable employment. Empowering women through income generation and continuing education enhances both their self-esteem and their ability to participate in decisions that affect them within the home and community. With their steady income, women are able to send their children to school, provide nutritious meals for their families, and seek healthcare when needed.

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Find many fair trade items at Linden Leaf Gifts, the Sisters of Providence gift shop at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. You can shop online here.
Today, Global Mamas works with nearly 350 producers in seven communities in Ghana. They export their products to 24 countries and generate one third of their revenue through sales in Ghana, helping to support the domestic economy. By investing in women, Global Mamas is investing in a prosperous future for all.

Fair Trade is a system based on collaboration, trust, and respect. Fair Trade aims to pay fair wages and create long-term, direct trading relationships based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, empowering producers to develop their own businesses and to foster sustainable development.

The core values of Global Mamas (and Fair Trade, in general) are consistent with the core values enumerated by the Sisters of Providence, namely:
• Focusing on the common good (Love);
• Working to alleviate the suffering of others in some direct way (Mercy);
• Endeavoring to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all (Justice);
• Using Earth’s resources in a sustainable manner (Care for Creation); and
• Working together for the good of the whole (Community).

Sister Denise Wilkinson once said, “We can expect that our good works, our works of love and mercy and justice will abide. What a great promise! When we love, act justly, respond in mercy, it matters; it makes a difference; it bears a fruit that will endure.”

As a Fair Trader, I am aware that how we do business runs counter to conventional wisdom and conventional business practices. However, the work of Fair Trade endures because of the commitment of producers, consumers and people of good will who wish to make a difference through their purchasing decisions, to change lives and invest in a future of prosperity for all.

The author is the executive director of Just Creations, a Fair Trade store in Louisville, Ky. She had the pleasure of traveling to Ghana in 2006 to meet the Global Mamas. She tried her hand at batiking and beadwork, whereupon she decided to return to Kentucky and keep her day job.

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Joan Frisz

Joan C. Frisz has been a Providence Associate since 2010, but her connection with the Sisters of Providence began in the womb. A graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Joan received her Master of Pastoral Studies degree from Loyola University in Chicago. She found her heart and her calling in Fair Trade and currently serves as the Executive Director of Just Creations, Louisville's International Fair Trade Marketplace, in Louisville, Ky.

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