Monday, August 16, 2010

African Toys to Heal My Bleeding Heart

While I am loving every minute of this adventure I can't help but feel guilty for being so blessed, and my heart bleeds for the millions of disadvantaged people I am surrounded by. Although, I am not ignorant enough to believe we don't have extreme poverty in the U.S. it is not nearly as visible or as overwhelmingly hopeless as it appears to be here. It is very difficult to figure out how to help and where to start. Since there are 10 beggars/street peddles on every corner it is impossible to give to each of them, so how do you choose who you are going to help? There are several organizations that I am interested in donating to but I can't decide which one is more worthy of my contribution. Do I just give a little to each, or a lot to one? I have spent more time trying to figure out how to help, than I I have actually spent helping!

Well, I was finally able to find a small band-aid for my bleeding heart and it was all by accident! In an attempt to find something interesting for the kids to do I came across this website for The African Toyshop. The goods sold there are from several different African countries and they are a part of the Fair Trade Organization. I have been dying to buy some authentic African souvenirs and when I saw the toys on this website I couldn’t wait to check it out. So I called the number to get the address and the woman who answered told me they had just recently had to close the shop but that she had the toys in storage and she would be happy to show them to us. I got the directions and then forgot to mention to Trent that we were going to a storage facility instead of a store until we were half way there! He thought this was insane but being the ever loving husband that he is he didn’t turn around!

When we got there we were greeted by this lovely older couple who owned the store and little did I know we would be in for such a treat! Their toys are unique and authentic and everything she showed me had a story! There were silly little dolls, called Shwe Shwe Poppies, that were made by a local organization that feeds over 20,000 children a day and were inspired by drawings from children in a day care in Soweto. There were hand carved little figurines by a man from Mozambique and hand carved replicas of old fashioned cars and tractors from a man in the Congo. Many of the toys are collector items and since they are all handmade they were kind of expensive. But as I learned the story of each toy and the individuals that made it I couldn’t help but buy one of everything (not literally but I did spend a big chunk of change). I was most excited to hear that in many cases the toys had become so popular that the person that made it had to hire more and more people to help them, thus providing more jobs! I fell in love with so many of the toys and of course had to buy toys for Aiden and Anna and gifts for my lovely nieces and nephews so it was easy to spend a small fortune! But more than anything I fell in love with being able to purchase something that helps so many people. We spent nearly two hours with the store owners and more than the history of the toys I learned so much about their family and South Africa. I love talking with people about their lives and this woman was so excited to have someone to share it with. She also gave me the contact for the woman responsible for the Shwe Shwe’s, as they are located close to my home. Hopefully, I will be able to continue to find meaningful opportunities to make a difference.

Woo-Men from Cape Town

Shwe Shwe Poppies from Soweto

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