How to Lazily Dig a Well in Africa

Pay someone else to do it.

As a 20-something coffee drinker, I decided I “needed” my own coffee mug at work. I was no longer content to use the office ones because they were not ~personal~ enough, and millennials are all about ~personal~ and ~self-expression~ so I set out on a search. I could go to Target, I could go to Amazon, I could even go to Etsy or Society6. But if I was going to spend money on it, I wanted my money to go to a person or cause rather than a chain that definitely doesn’t need my coffee mug money. (Plus this way my mug would probably be pretty original and that’s what we’re all about.)

In my search I found a fair trade website that pulls products from other fair trade sites. And that is where I found my coffee mug.

I don't have a picture of myself with a local poor child, but I can say I wasn't a liability in a life-saving operation.A percentage of my mug money went towards building a water well for people in poverty. Beyond just being a good product, every time I use it I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have a sink instead of a well. Yes, it does feel good to have supported a good cause, even if I didn’t make a huge dent. And I’m glad I didn’t give my money to a fat cat at a mahogany desk.

I could have flown to Africa and helped physically dig the well myself. But by the time the organization and engineers got me to the location, taught me how to do what I was supposed to do, guided me through actually doing it, and then got me back to the airport, I’m pretty sure an entire well could have been built. I wasn’t able to stop work to have my picture taken holding well water in my hands, but I can say I was not a liability in a life-saving operation.

By the time I spent all that money on the Uber to the airport, the flight, the heaven only knows how many forms and shots and health stuffs, and the food and transportation in Africa, I probably could have bought the entire store part of the company. I could have paid for multiple wells, single-handedly. I wouldn’t have been able to have my picture taken with a local child, but I’d have a picture of me surrounded by the hundreds of coffee mugs I could have bought.

Thanks to the internet and people’s entrepreneurship, there are lots of stores and sites that support good causes by selling you things:

For Home Goods: Redemption Market, The Created Co., Badala

This is where I found my mug, which was actually made by The Created Co. Redemption Market is the conglomerate site, selling everything from dishes and kitchenware to jewelry, clothing, home goods, and they honor every donation and cause the original product creators intend. The Created Co. sells coffee mugs, both traditional and travel, and a percentage of the profits go to building water wells. Badala has random hand-made house stuff: napkins, baskets, cheese boards, whiskey stones, lamps, the works. Artisans are from East Africa and Central America, and the proceeds go towards fighting poverty and sex trafficking.

For Coffee and Tea: Equal Exchange, Grumpy Mule, Pura Vida

Even if you and a roommate disagree over whether coffee or tea is better, you can order both, fairly.Equal Exchange has both coffee and tea, so if you live with someone who disagrees with you on which is better, you can order both, fairly, from the same place. Grumpy Mule has an awesome name and they win awards, so you can’t really get anything better. They are based in the U.K. though, so if you’d rather not deal with international shipping costs, there’s Pura Vida here in the States. Most fair trade coffee companies fund environmental programs besides simply supporting farmers in need and their green farming habits, but Pura Vida went the extra mile and also founded a charity to help at-risk children across the globe.

For Clothing: Sudara, Everlane, Raven and Lily, Reformation

Sudara is mostly sleep and lounge clothing for both men and women – all made by rescued women in India – but since when are comfy clothes bad? If you want something fancier, Everlane has ~minimalist~ clothing. Women, if you’re looking for something dressy, Raven and Lily has nicer pieces and Reformation has occasion clothing with the look of a designer without the bankrupting price tag.

For Jewelry: Purpose Jewelry, The Starfish Project, Soko

These two jewelry companies were both started to provide employment and funds for women rescued from sex trafficking. Both Purpose and Starfish provide their artisans with education, healthcare, and counseling as well. Soko was started to give “market access” to marginalized artisans, connecting them to current fashions and giving them the tools to sell and receive payment for their own creations. Soko jewelry makers also keep 25-35% of their profits instead of the usual 2-3%.

For When You’re Wanting Wedding Bells: Ingle & Rhode, Sanyukta Shrestha

Yes, there are even fair trade engagement and wedding rings, and wedding dresses. If you’re thinking of proposing, Ingle & Rhode uses fair trade stones and metals, and you have the option of designing your own ring (they have previously created rings on the site for inspiration if you want some ideas).

Fair Trade is Fifth Harmony-approved. Because we needed that.Sanyukta Shrestha is a Fifth Harmony-approved designer carrying not only wedding dresses but also evening gowns – so if your bridal party will be black- or white-tie, Shrestha’s got you covered for your whole party. All her dresses are handmade by women living in poverty in Shrestha’s homeland of Nepal.

There are also a few independent brick-and-mortar consignment stores carrying “the usual” designer dresses who give proceeds to charities: there’s one in Atlanta (funding breast cancer research), and one each in Portland and Tacoma (both donating to multiple women’s causes).

So next time you need something – or “need” – you can feel even better than simply crossing something off your to-do list. All without wasting the time of an engineer in Africa.