Ten Thousand Villages

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Ten Thousand Villages, a program sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and designed to provide employment for people in developing countries by marketing internationally handicraft items these people can make but are unable to sell locally. In earlier years it was referred to as the "Needlework Program" and in the 1970s it was called "MCC Self Help Program." In 1980 the name was officially changed to "SELFHELP Crafts" and in 1996 to Ten Thousand Villages (from a quote by Mahatma Gandhi).

The program has an organization structure loosely parallel to that of MCC with international, Canadian, and United States divisions. This allows for greater flexibility in purchasing and marketing of crafts from various countries and from certain overseas projects not permitted to be imported into both countries. The international office, at Akron, Pa., provides guidelines and researches and approves overseas projects. The headquarters and warehouse for the Canadian program are in New Hamburg, Ont., and the United States program's headquarters and warehouse are at Akron, Pa.

The program is operated on a nonprofit basis but is not subsidized by MCC funds. Markup to cover the costs of shipping, customs and overhead expenses is added to the basic price paid to the producer. Special care is taken to select projects where local artisans are treated fairly and paid reasonable wages in relation to their community wage scale. The program works closely with MCC overseas development programs, church, and mission projects. The Ten Thousand Villages idea began in 1946 when Edna Ruth Byler was asked by poverty-stricken women in Puerto Rico and by MCC workers Mary Lauver and Olga Martens to take needlework items back to the United States to sell so the Puerto Rican women could buy food and clothing for their families. Edna Byler operated it as a private undertaking until 1962 when it became part of the total relief, rehabilitation, and development program of MCC. She continued on a part-time basis until retirement in 1970. Since 1971 MCC-appointed full-time directors have been Janet Yoder (1971-74), Nick Dyck (1975-77), Paul Leatherman (1977-88) and Paul Myers (1989-    ). 

From a small beginning the program has grown very rapidly with yearly sales increases as high as 69 percent. Direct purchases of crafts from producers (excluding all costs of distribution), totaled $53,000 in 1971 and grew by 1997 to more than 3.5 million dollars paid to more than 100 producer groups in 35 countries. The income benefited more than 30,000 people.

One of the factors contributing to the rapid growth was the Ten Thousand Villages and Thrift Shop outlets established locally in various communities throughout the United States and Canada. In 1999 there were more than 127 outlets in the United States and 45 in Canada; they accounted for more than 50 percent of the total sales and provided people with a tangible opportunity for involvement in the work of MCC. Volunteers are an invaluable part of all aspects of the program. Ten Thousand Villages also markets items through sales to other nonprofit shops and to commercial customers, through a large showroom in Ephrata, Pa., through relief sales, through displays at churches and organizations, and through local Ten Thousand Villages representatives.

A significant side effect of the program is that it helps to preserve traditional handicraft skills which might otherwise be lost. Ten Thousand Villages is primarily concerned with the needs and welfare of the producers rather than the consumers and considers the educational aspects dealing with injustice, poverty and international understanding to be an integral part of the program. It seeks to carry out the goals of MCC by trying to meet human need, serving in the name of Christ.


Brochures and filmstrips available from Ten Thousand Villages offices in Akron, PA and New Hamburg, ON.

Lists of Thrift Shop and Ten Thousand Villages stores are published on the Ten Thousand Villages website.

MCC Workbooks, 1971-97. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee.

Additional Information

Ten Thousand Villages

Author(s) Janet Yoder
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Yoder, Janet. "Ten Thousand Villages." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 23 Feb 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ten_Thousand_Villages&oldid=122082.

APA style

Yoder, Janet. (1989). Ten Thousand Villages. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 February 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ten_Thousand_Villages&oldid=122082.

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