Big Village: Supporting Artisans Abroad and Inspiring Global Citizens at Home

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John and Liz Blaauwendraat are on a mission to share their message that “fair business relationships are the best way to effect change towards the challenge of income inequality.”

What was the inspiration that got you into this business?

We had been working with a social entrepreneur on a community development project in Ghana since 2009, and I was able to travel there in 2011 and 2013.  We were involved in fundraising, and had been investing personal resources in the construction of a school in the town of Asamankese.  We were thrilled to see that project completed and classes underway during our visit in ’13, but came to the realization that in order for this to be sustainable, we would have to find a way to use local resources to fund this and other projects.  We could see that there were so many wonderful products being made in Ghana that could be brought to Western markets, and started working on a strategy to use these products to bless projects in that country.

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The family business not only sells handmade products from Ghana, but they also commit to teaching the next generation about fair trade. John and Liz, along with their daughter Avery and son Anders, have developed a series of presentations that they take around to different students in grades 2, 6 and 10. These interactive presentations focus on the fair trade principles and how they tie in to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Along with fueling the next generation of changemakers, they also connect with students creative side by conducting a bracelet making workshop using their recycled glass beads.

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Weaving baskets in Bolgatanga, Ghana

How is Big Village impacting the world?

We use the baskets and beads as practical examples when we introduce topics such as recycling, cultural identity, social justice, and sustainability to our customers and students.  Our partners in Ghana are models of resourcefulness because they use materials that are readily available to them to make the products.  The baskets are constructed from a special type of grass that grows in abundance in Northern Ghana, and is resilient to the effects of climate change.  The glass beads are made from bottles in the community that were broken and unused.   The workers will gather them from the roadside and they are bring them to the factory to be re-formed into our beads.

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The Blaauwendraat family visiting their partners in Bolgatanga, Ghana

Visiting Ghana in June of 2015 they had an opportunity to meet with their partners. Spending time with the artisans allowed John and Liz to see how they live and work and to get to know their families.  Through a translator John had the opportunity to speak to them about how much Big Village customers love the baskets, I spoke about how our relationship with them is like a basket; each of us is like a blade of grass, and through our partnership we have, through the many connections, become woven together into something that’s strong and beautiful.”

 

Big Village, Big News: Big Village has teamed up with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to sell baskets which will support fundraising for the Grandmothers Campaign! The Grandmothers Campaign supports grandmothers and their communities in Africa as they struggle to care for the millions of children orphaned by AIDS.

Check out Big Village at www.bigvillage.ca and like their Facebook Page!

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John at The Fair Trade Show in June 2016 at Heritage Court, Enercare Centre
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Liz and John at The Fair Trade Show in June 2016 at Heritage Court, Enercare Centre