Global Activism: 'The Mustard Seed' Fair Trade shop is transforming lives

August 21, 2014

Photo Credit: George Kohl
Judy Kohl in Africa with an artisan

Judy Kohl grew up in a missionary family in Belgian Congo. When the Belgians were overthrown, her family was forced to flee to Kenya, where she spent much of her childhood. Those times developed Judy’s sense of social justice and giving back. She eventually created The Mustard Seed, a fair trade shop in Lake Forest, IL. They say they’re “committed to donating its profits to organizations that help empower women and children,” especially those stricken with HIV/AIDS. Judy will tell us about the importance of fair trade and how witnessing history as a child changed her life.

Judy tells us about her life's journey, which had an extraordinary beginning:

"Just 8 months old when I arrived in the Belgian Congo, I had no idea the journey my life would take over the next five decades. As the daughter of missionaries to Africa, cross-cultural thinking became part of my DNA as I experienced from a young age what it was to live in a global context. Growing up in this environment, my parents and other missionaries modeled selfless love as they cared for those around them. As we fled the Congo in 1964 during the uprising that led to independence, it was with mixed emotions. We had no choice but to leave because of the advancing Rebels, but our hearts remained with those who had become like family. Relationships were a high value within our family culture.

Fast forward to the present - I’m still passionate about giving back to those less fortunate. Though I live on the North Shore, decisions I make on how I spend my time and my money can literally change the lives of a community halfway across the world. Serving with other volunteers at The Mustard Seed - A Fair Trade Shop, we are committed to partnering with cooperatives and artisans in developing countries to provide a market for their creations while paying them a fair price. We also donate our profits to organizations that help empower women and children both domestically and internationally. Each of these ways enable others to make a sustainable living and emerge from poverty. It is still all about relationships. By having a world view, we can continue to change the lives of people we will never even meet - and that is the whole point."