Shopping with a purpose

By Betsy Mulligan Dague 

Executive Director, Jeannette Rankin Peace Center 

One of the great things about traveling to another country is shopping for souvenirs — things that will bring back memories of your trip for you and gifts to let those at home know you were thinking of them and to say thank you for watching over the things at home while you travel. Traveling in SE Asia has some wonderful shopping. In every city there are many markets selling everything from soap and clothing to produce and souvenir items. It is beautiful to see the scarves of silk and the jewlry, teas and spices unique to the region. And it is fun to see familiar items with labels in a different language. I am tempted to take it all home so I can savor the sights, tastes and smells of the countries I have come to love dearly. Most prices seem very reasonable to a US shopper. But many things in these big markets are not made in Cambodia or Thailand but in other places and I wonder who reaps the profit if not the country I am seeking to remember with my souvenirs. I have found that just looking a little off the usual path, you can find many shopping and dining opportunities that feature things made in country by people who are learning a trade in order to better support themselves and their families. Many restaurants train young people in the hospitality field and lots of stores help women who are recovering from abuse learn to be self-sufficient. Ethical business models like fair trade and direct trade do make a difference in people’s lives and I am happy to find stores and restaurants that help me live my values while also bringing home memories to treasure. Some of the items may cost a bit more but I am assured that my money is going to help build up the country by empowering the people who live here. In my way of thinking leaving a better world behind me as I leave is the best memory to take home with me and one I know my friends and family will appreciate.

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