WITH a debilitating illness, Qinnie Wang says she often hears “the clock ticking”.The 28-year-old public servant has a rare central nervous system disorder called fibromyalgia, which results in chronic widespread pain.
But rather than get her down, the condition made her think about what she really wanted in life: “I always knew I wanted to help others… I just wasn’t sure who,” Qinnie says.
The answer came after an “eye-opening” trip to south-east Asia last year.
“What haunted me was the faces of the children, they were living in extreme poverty,” she says.
“We went to visit a temple in Cambodia and there were just 20 children following us for half a day, because they wanted us to buy a scarf from them, and I asked the tour guide how much do they make and he said about 20 cents. They couldn’t even afford a toothbrush. It was just so sad.”
Rather than donate to a charity, Qinnie decided she wanted to start a business that kept people employed and provided regular income.
Taking inspiration from the colourful jewellery and handicrafts she saw in markets around Asia, Qinnie launched her own website, Global Handmade in January, selling jewellery and handicrafts purchased from fair trade suppliers from developing countries in Asia.
“Simply donating money is not always a quick answer to poverty,” she says.“These people want to earn a living from their skills.”
100 per cent of profit made is given back to the communities who produced the products, including sponsoring students to complete education, building schools and helping street children.
“The first project I want to contribute to is sponsoring students in Cambodia to learn English at the Australian Centre for Education. I’ve met people who have taken the course and it’s lifted their whole family out of poverty,” she says.
“I decided Canberra would be a good place to start this business… they are such culture-loving, generous people, and I believe there is a market here for non-mass produced products.”
As well as the website, Qinnie plans to start selling her range at the Gorman House and Old Bus Depot Markets.
She hopes Global Handmade will eventually become a worldwide organisation, concentrating on a global fair trade movement, such as Oxfam or Ten Thousand Villages.
“They all started somewhere, and hopefully this is the beginning of something really successful,” she says.