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Strewn all over the United States and Canada, small ethnic stores called Ten Thousand Villages help thousands of people from the Third World feed, clothe, educate, and shelter themselves.

After hand-making their own merchandise from only the resources at their disposal, each village is able to sell their items through this non-profit, fair trade organization. By providing fair incomes to these people, Ten Thousand Villages and those that support it have saved thousands of lives.

Ten Thousand Villages was created in 1946 by Edna Ruth Byler. She was visiting volunteers from Mennonite Central Committee, who were teaching sewing classes at a school in Puerto Rico. From there, she brought embroidery home to sell to her friends and neighbors. She began to collect more materials from other countries to continue selling. This evolved into an even larger idea, a project that turned into Ten Thousand Villages.

When you walk into this store, you feel like you are shopping in a different country. Hand-painted kites are draped from the ceiling. Beautiful authentic rugs, scarves, and jewelry adorn the floors, walls and tables.

If you are interested in music, a table filled with instruments from all around the world would certainly catch your eye. Not only is everything in there intriguing to look at, but each item has its own story.

The merchandise is made by hand or simple machinery, coming mostly from a country's own natural resources. Some materials are even taken from recycled objects such as metals, rubber (including old tires), and glass. For instance, wire plush toys made in Kenya are made from recycled materials.

As you make your way through the store, you may come across a gorgeous collection of wooden bowls and other pottery made by a woman from Pomaire, Chile. These handicrafts are made from earthenware ceramics. From Nepal, artisans of the "singing bowl" mostly use tin, copper, and brass.

Another village carves boxes and neat creations from mined stones called Kisii stones. It takes a lot of hard work to make things from these stones. First they are mined from a local quarry. Then they are cut into small pieces, chiseled, filed, sand-washed, polished, and then waxed.

When you visit this store, you can play music from all over the world. The instruments come from various places such as Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, and Cameroon.

One musical instrument is the Djembe Drum made in an African Village called Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso is a home to around 10 million people and where 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty level. Thanks to Ten Thousand Villages, many of its people don't have to suffer. Farming is not very promising due to frequent droughts. The Djembe Drum, which plays a huge part in the African tradition and way of life, holds a lot of hope for the people of Burkina Faso. By selling these drums, the people are able to earn enough money to feed and clothe themselves. Many people from this village contribute their talents towards making each drum. A solid piece of wood must be carved to start it out, and then a cleaned goat hide is nailed over it. After tuning, the drum is ready to be sold.

From El Salvador, where mango trees are abundant, you may find stunning hand-carved tools made from mango trees. You may even spot a design of a mango tree on the stool for, believe it or not, the mango tree has been an incredibly significant cultural symbol in El Salvador for a very long time.

You learn something new in this store -- something exciting -- and you get the chance to connect with different cultures. That is definitely something you can't do every day.

Ten Thousand Villages is located at 5475 Sheridan Drive in Williamsville (in Williamsville Plaza). You can reach it by phone at 839-9274 or visit the Web site: If you are looking to be a part of this non-profit organization, Ten Thousand Villages is always open to volunteers. You must be at least 12 years old.