How Fair Trade Turned Life Around for a Family in India

“When you bring back the smile to one person, you also profit. The deepest happiness you can have comes from that capacity to help relieve the suffering of others.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

“Tomorrow, I will have money; I will not have to beg, and my children can go to school,” says beadwork artisan Ms. Jagwati, summing up the most important reason to support fair trade: to restore someone’s hope, dignity, and smile. Jagwati comes from a slum in Delhi, one of many places around the world where fair trade is paving a way out of the cycle of poverty.

This February, Gaiam sent a small team to meet some of these extraordinary survivors in the places where they live and work — in India and in poor villages and communities across Vietnam, Cambodia and northern Thailand.

Here, fair trade is a way out of the bleak cycle of poverty. By paying livable wages, funding schools and providing job training and child care assistance, fair trade is helping talented yet disadvantaged people gain ground against illiteracy, exploitation, even slavery and human trafficking.

Jagwati and her family live very humbly

“In the slum where I live, there are water problems and the circumstances are very bad,” says Jagwati, who lives in a poor area of the city with her husband and three daughters. It was about 11 years ago when things were at their worst for her family.

“At that time we were earning very little," she says, "and because girls’ education is not promoted, I would have to tell the girls they had to sit at home even though I did not want that. We did not have money to buy the books or pay the fees. Those were very difficult times.”

Then Jagwati heard about Tara Projects, a group that had begun hiring women in her area for beading and seamstress work at wages she’d never dreamed of earning.

With Tara’s help, a school was opened in her community, and Jagwati and other women from her slum started working for the project. The pay made it possible to do more than just survive.

Jagwati with friends

Although Jagwati still lives in third-world conditions, she’s earned enough as a beader to afford school fees and start a dowry for her daughters.

“At first some of the women put tags on [to finished products] so they could earn some money,” says Tara Projects liaison Ms. Moon. "Then we provided training in beading, tailoring and stitching. The goal was to help them become economically independent.”

“My earnings from Tara have helped my family so much,” says Jagwati. “Before we were not aware of the importance of education. But my children must go, and for that we need support economically. We couldn’t go to school when we were young. We want our children to have those opportunities.

"Today my three daughters are going to school," she adds. "I can afford to pay the fee. It gave us awareness and empowerment. I feel more confident.”

Jagwati has also been able to buy health insurance and stash away 100 rupees a month in a savings account for her daughters’ dowries, which remain customary in modern India’s society.

Moon says Jagwati and her coworkers also contribute 100 rupees a month to a group fund established to help Tara’s workers with emergency loans so they can weather hard times more easily. Two years ago when Jagwati’s community was demolished by extreme weather, Moon says, “that money really helped them rebuild their homes.”

Tara has even added an education program for its workers. “We wanted to learn to read and write,” says Jagwati.

But it seems that’s just the beginning for this bright, vivacious woman and others around her.

“Ms. Jagwati is obsessed with her studies,” says Moon. “She feels she must go to school, and she continually reaches for a higher level. She has big hopes.”


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