Shop till you drop in Vietnam

Our tour in Vietnam is packed full of character and charm, so it’s great to see this tour featured  in a double page spread in The Guardian, thanks to journalist Liz Boulter. Didn’t manage to grab yourself a copy? Here’s a preview below…

Mai Chau paddy fields

It started with a tiny ceramic teapot and that led to a lacquered bamboo dish in a bright abstract pattern, then a hand-woven scarf. It was just the start of my tour of Vietnam, and I was already hooked.

I am not usually a shopaholic, but here not only did the prices appeal to my Yorkshire sensibilities – none of the above items cost more than £2 – but I could convince myself that this retail therapy was doing some good. There’s all sorts of tat on sale to tourists in Vietnam, much of it made in China. But I knew my spending would make a difference to local lives because I was on holiday with an organisation which makes that its mission.

Traidcraft, the people behind the British catalogues and gift shops, has teamed up with cycling-holiday operator Saddle Skedaddle (one of its founders used to work for Traidcraft) to offer trips to the developing countries the charity sources its wares from. The idea of Traidcraft’s “Meet the People” holidays (there’s no cycling on this particular trip) was to give people who were already part of the fair-trade movement – volunteering in shops, running stalls – the chance to see where products originated.

Even for those who’ve never been near a fairly traded fruit bowl, the tours offer a unique perspective, on people and cultures as well as sightseeing. (They also run trips in other Asian countries, and in Africa and Latin America.) Plus you get to shop till you drop, and feel good about it.

My teapot and dish came from a showroom in Hanoi run by Craft Link, a non-profit organisation that works with 60 artisan groups in northern Vietnam. Over tea and little cakes upstairs, we heard from manager Ms Tran and younger Ms Thuy all about its work finding markets for handicrafts as a way of keeping traditions alive and alleviating poverty. It’s not charity: they help groups for a couple of years, with training and financial support. And they always work with women.

Then we were let loose in the shop: our group of 15 Brits snapped up silk purses and scarves, bags, ceramics and jewellery. There was still more than two weeks of the tour left, but hey, a gorgeous little brooch won’t take up much room…

Want to find out more? Click here to read Liz’s article in full.

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Meet our fantastic guides!

All of our guides are fantastic ambassadors for their countries, keen to share their love and enthusiasm for their culture and history and always making sure you enjoy the very best trip possible.

Name: Efrain
Destination: Peru

Day 6 (4)

So proud of his country and heritage, Efrain recently brought a little bit of Peruvian culture to us when he joined us in the UK in April 2012 to run the London Marathon in full Inca Chaski dress. Running in the traditional dress of his ancestors, Efrain completed the marathon in 5 hours, 3 minutes and 32 seconds, raising just over £5,000 for Traidcraft Exchange.

You can see photos of Efrain’s journey to the UK to run in the London Marathon on our website by clicking here.

Click here for more information on our tours in Peru.

Name: Ranjith Henry 
Destination: India

Ranjith & Rani - cropped

Ranjith and his wife Rani, run Kolam Tours from their home in Chennai. Ranjith has been running tours with Traidcraft since 1990 and is a firm favourite and friend of so many who have travelled with him.

Ranjith is no ordinary tour guide. Happy to discuss and debate any and all subjects, and often leading the discussion about all that we see and do on the tours, Ranjith is determined to make sure that you make the most of your time discovering India, learning from the producers themselves about realities of life in modern day India. Prompting with the questions you didn’t even know you wanted to ask, Ranjith helps to challenge perceptions of India and every day occurences making every trip with him unforgettable.

You can join Ranjith on any of the following tours:
Southern India click here for more information
Western India click here for more information
Northern India click here for more information

Guide: Stephen, Suwadee, and Rosalind Salmon
Destination: Thailand

Suwade - cropped

Stephen, originally from the UK, first went to Thailand in 1972 as a volunteer and married Suwadee (pictured above) in Chiang Mai in 1975. They have lived in Thailand continuously for over 25 years, working and living in several different parts of the country. In 1992 they both helped start the ThaiCraft Association which they now manage alongside their daughter Rosalind and son Mark. ThaiCraft is a fair trade organisation partnering with nearly 100 craft communities in all regions of the country and their long-term relationships with the groups that we visit allows an insight into life in Thailand that few tourists will ever get to experience.

You can join the ThaiCraft family on our tour of Northern Thailand click here for more information.

Guide: Shamim
Destination: Bangladesh

Shamim - cropped

A fantastic ambassador for his country, Shamim facilitates and guides all of our tours in Bangladesh as we visit a variety of fantastic fair trade groups and communities.

With such a long and close relationship with Traidcraft, the producers and projects welcome all our groups as friends and Shamim’s welcome and approach is no different as he warmly welcomes us to enjoy and love Bangladesh as he does. Himself a fabric designer, Shamim has long been involved in the development and fair trade networks in Bangladesh and is a senior member of the National Crafts Council. As well as guiding us round the producers, projects and main sites of our visit, Shamim welcomes us for an unforgettable stay in a rural community of weavers and organic farmers very close to his heart.

Meet Shamim and enjoy Bangladesh on our tours in March click here for more information.

To check availability on any of the tours mentioned above click here.

For more information about any of our tours, or to chat through any questions please feel free to call Hannah in the office on 0191 2651110 or you can email us at info@skedaddle.com

Guardian Green List 2011

Traidcraft’s Meet the People Tours are one of the UK’s top sustainable travel initiatives.

That’s according to this year’s Green Travel List from The Guardian. The list is an annual roll-call of green, eco-friendly and sustainable travel companies, including tour operators, and accommodation and transport providers.

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Organisations are nominated by the public and then a panel of eco-experts choose the most innovative – Meet the People was chosen as one of the top sustainable holidays.

Here’s what the Guardian had to say about us:

Witness spectacular sunsets over the Himalayas, then explore the ancient city of Kathmandu, take an elephant safari in Chitwan national park then chill out in the lakeside city of Pokhara. This is just one of the whistle-stop itineraries on Traidcraft’s novel sightseeing trips to developing countries. Other destinations include Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cuba, Peru and Vietnam. While exploring the country, you stay with the small-scale farmers who make fairtrade products.

Click here to read the Guardian’s article in full.

Click here for more details about how you can get involved in our worldwide tours.

GreenList2011

Navigating Nepal…

Meet the People traveller Judy Dixey headed to Nepal to discover the rich treasures and fascinating local culture that await those who venture here…

Many people dream of going to Nepal – some were dreaming when they were actually there, on the hippie trail in the ‘60s; some dream about trekking in the magnificent Himalayas or even taking a flight over Everest; some dream of finding themselves, or their god – Buddha was born in this kingdom at the top of world.

I was privileged to try out a very different kind of Nepal on a trip organised by Saddle Skedaddle on behalf of Traidcraft. Traidcraft is an essentially Christian organisation whose mission is to reduce poverty through trade. It is active in various developing countries throughout the world, empowering people to take control of their lives through working to produce goods which can be traded in the West – whether it’s food, crafts, clothes or homeware. All are produced under at least as good conditions as those demanded under Fair Trade regulations.

Our visit was entitled ‘Meet the People’ who are involved with Fair Trade and Traidcraft; and so we did. We met an inspirational man who’s at the forefront of an organisation – Get Paper Industries – which has drawn disadvantaged women into employment, making hand-made paper, or felt objects. We visited as they were working on a line of paper containers for The Body Shop; so when you next buy items from there, do take note of the little boxes they are packed in – they will probably come from Nepal. He also had the heart and wisdom to see that girls’ education is essential (currently 34% of girls in Nepal do NOT go to school) and to devise schemes to ‘trick’ that caste-based society to ‘Send your daughter to school’. The scheme is to pay 100 rupees (approx 75p) a week to the lower-caste families when their daughter goes to school; this encourages other higher caste families to feel they might be missing out. The notion of ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ works in Nepal too, so they send their daughters as well.

The company is also active in AIDS awareness, and it is also environmentally aware, so any machinery used is powered by solar energy.

Women at GWP

There is a major issue of young women being trafficked to India for the sex trade; GPI has initiated self-governing networks of girls to confront this issue – over 100 groups now exist of 15 girls, who can guard against the traffickers’ empty temptations of a better life elsewhere, through mutual support and information. They are also provided with the means of earning income and preventing their fathers or brothers from selling them to traffickers – they might be given a goat, which will have kids, and more kids; the goat is a speciality meat at festivals, so is highly valued. We met one such group in the back of beyond, up the most appalling track, which was only passable by jeep or on foot. The girls were meeting together, minuting their discussions and decisions and earning respect from the villagers round about.

GPI Anita Milan School

Our next visit in Pokhara was to the Women’s Skills Development Project, founded by Ram Kali Khadka in 1975. Over 11,000 women have benefitted from her energy and actions and the two shops on the Lake Side Road are packed with imaginative craft work from the 435 current members. They are learning skills such as dyeing, weaving and sewing; some of these are skills we lost 100, 150 or even 200 years ago; but they are useful skills in the context of the country as it is. How could you expect them to be learning IT skills, when there are constant power cuts, and the lighting is barely good enough to read by at night? Of the 435 women working for the Project, some are home workers; 35 are disabled, of whom 11 are blind.

We certainly filled our suitcases with masses of beautifully-made imaginative presents for home and families, very useful as we come up to Christmas.

But the trip wasn’t all serious visits to these projects. There was plenty of time to visit and admire a fraction of the temples and shrines for which Kathmandu has obtained the deserved soubriquet of City of Temples. We also described it as City of Chaos as the traffic is terrifying, there are no traffic lights and policemen in the middle of the road wave and blow whistles to gain some sort of order. Amazingly, we saw no accidents, and drivers squeeze their battered vehicles through tiny spaces, demonstrating significant skill and nerve. Everyone who is not in a battered vehicle is on a motorbike; usually the driver wears the helmet, while the pillion rider takes her life in her hands and doesn’t. Cows, dogs and chickens wander across the road with impunity and somehow survive. The potholes are such that I’ll never complain about those in Britain again!

We also travelled to the Chitwan National Park, where we saw rhino, elephants and deer; at one point a family of wild boar had an argument and charged across our path. We had a highly knowledgeable guide, Kumar, whose wild-life life had begun with 9 years in tiger conservation, and despite no formal education, had accumulated a wealth of knowledge to share.

Nagarkot

And of course, we did get up to see the sunrise. Rosy-fingered dawn did tip the peaks of the Himalayas in front of us, a few minutes before the sun itself actually appeared above the horizon. What an astounding experience.

Our guide, Prajol, had worked with Traidcraft and Skedaddle to ensure we had as rounded a view of Nepal as could be gained in the space of just under two weeks – and many of us have come back with a feeling of sensation- and emotion- overload which will take some time to unpack and process. There is no doubt that there is masses to do there, the infrastructure militates against swift improvement in living conditions, as does the Hindu acceptance of life as it is. But it is better to light a candle than rail against the darkness and that is what I did, in the Mahabuddha, the abode of a thousand Buddhas, in thanks for our visit and as a prayer for peace and enlightenment.

To see more photos visit ICN’s Facebook Page

Many thanks to Judy Dixey for this article and to the Independent Catholic News for allowing us to reproduce it here. To see the original article please click here

If you would like any further information about our tours to Nepal with Traidcraft then please click here. Alternatively, please call Hannah at Skedaddle on 0191 2651110 or email us at info@skedaddle.com.