The unique necklace of freshwater pearls and iridescent beads looped around Rebecca Pippin’s neck is much more than a fashion accessory. This treasured piece of jewelry was created by artisans from the remote Bwa G’Naw region of Thailand and, for Rebecca, is a reminder of the many ways she is helping struggling women across the globe enjoy a better way of life.

Her stylish bracelet features beads made from recycled cereal boxes and earthen clay, all strung together on an elastic cord. She wears it proudly, explaining that the income generated through the sale of this item has allowed many Haitian women to earn the wages needed to provide adequate care for their children.

Rebecca is a wife, a mother, a VHCC student, and a “compassionate entrepreneur” for Trades of Hope, an organization dedicated to helping individuals escape a life of poverty and despair. The organization is not a charity, but rather a sustainable business that currently employs more than 14,000 people in 17 nations. By creating jobs for those in need, it has freed many in Pakistan from slavery and religious oppression, helped women in Nepal escape sex trafficking, assisted the disabled in Kenya who have been ostracized because of their handicap, and come to the aid of those in Cambodia who have been victims of acid attacks. In the United States, it has helped women escape sexual exploitation by providing them with alternative careers.

Rebecca learned about Trades of Hope when she stumbled upon a catalog and read about the organization’s work. A woman of strong faith, she had always been interested in doing mission work and realized this organization would allow her to make an important impact and still fulfil her other responsibilities. And, because Trades of Hope is a member of the Fair Trade Federation – a designation that ensures employees receive a liveable wage for the work they do – she felt good about her decision to become a compassionate entrepreneur (CE) in February 2017.

Since then, Rebecca has been hard at work.

Using a detailed catalog she keeps tucked neatly in her backpack and the various items she has purchased for herself, she sells the handmade products and tells the Trades of Hope story. Because of her exemplary work and passion for the cause, she was invited to visit Haiti on a “vision trip” to meet the artisans and learn how their products are made. She made the trip in May and said the experience “was amazing and life changing. I’ve been looking at things differently since I returned.”

She now has a deeper appreciation for basic necessities, like clean water and nutritious food, that are always available to her. She is more aware now of the need to conserve, recycle, and protect the environment. She understands the importance of purchasing Fair Trade goods, even if it means she has to wait a little longer for a new pair of shoes. And, Rebecca said, she is more bothered now by waste and greed, because she has seen the happy faces of people like Rose, Mario, Sonya, and Jerry – all Haitian artisans who are grateful for everything they own and every opportunity they’ve been given.

“I met these people who had harder circumstances and rougher lives than I’ve ever experienced, but they were happy. They were some of the happiest people that I’ve ever met. I’m so blessed to be where I am.”

Since arriving back home, Rebecca has been taking summer classes toward the Associate of Arts & Sciences Degree in Education she began last fall. She hopes to become a classroom teacher, but said she also wants to find a way to make a real impact on those in need around the world. She already has committed to sponsoring educational opportunities for two young children in third-world countries, but plans to speak with her professors when classes resume in the fall for advice on how she can do more.

And she will sell products for Trades of Hope with renewed enthusiasm, she said, because she now realizes how important each dollar generated is to the artisans who carefully roll the clay beads, sew the leather purses, and turn discarded boxes into beautiful jewelry.

“These are not just pretty products. They represent so much more for these people. They don’t want a handout, they want to have a job that allows them to take care of their families. I want to do this for them. I’ve seen their faces and they are friends to me now.”