Assistant Professor of Communication Elizabeth McLaughlin, Ph.D., tries on a hat at Ten Thousand Villages.

Celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. looked different at Bethel this year. Not only were students asked to reflect upon his life and legacy, but they were also encouraged to use this day to reflect upon different cultures and customs around the globe.

Several events were coordinated and sponsored by Bethel’s center for intercultural development and the multi-ethnic resource team (MERT), such as a visit to the Northern Indiana Center for History, attending a celebration concert at another nearby college and a trip to Ten Thousand Villages.

Assistant Professor of Communication Elizabeth McLaughlin, Ph.D., who teaches my intercultural communication class, led a trip to the nonprofit shop Ten Thousand Villages in Granger, Ind. I had never been to the store. After arriving and looking at all of the home décor, personal accessories and gift items,  the manager explained the store’s mission and fair trade process which is “… to provide vital, fair income to third world people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America.” The money aids each artisan to improve their housing situation, and provide food, education and healthcare for their families.

The company supports artisans in more than 30 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. I was surprised to find that the store runs off of two paid employees and several volunteers.

I now saw the crafts differently. I realized they were intricate and creatively made; no two products were exactly alike. The artisans’ work isn’t just their livelihood, but an expression of their culture. This trip made me appreciate the talents that each of these artisans bring to the table, making me want to help.

Before we left, I purchased a basket that was hand-woven by a woman in Bangladesh. To me this basket will serve as a reminder to continue appreciating all of the cultures and customs around the world.