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Hands Around the World to host first cash mob

Janet Browning has always served as a traveling teacher in one way or another, but when she made the decision to leave her afterschool program to sell art out of a van in poverty stricken villages across the globe, she was taking a giant leap of faith based on her true passion and dedication to education.
Browning’s store, Hands Around the World, has been open in downtown Jonesborough since the National Storytelling Festival in 2001, when Browning’s friends suggested she open a storefront instead of traveling in what she describes as a “hippie van.”
“I really thought that it would be impossible for me to stay in one spot,” Browning said. “I had been selling out of my van and traveling to gift shows for quite some time.”
Once Hands Around the World opened, she began to phase out her traveling sales routine and focus solely on what she has initially set out to do – educate and share the traditions, cultures and art of people from around the world.
She first began with hand woven baskets from an Amazon Indian tribe and encouraged the women to continue their tradition.
Her shop has expanded to include local and regional artists, but the focus still remains on Latin and South American tribes, as well as villages from Southeast Asia, Venezuela, the Amazon and Thailand.
“Everyone loves the finger puppets and friendship bracelets from Peru,” she said. “The Bali sculptures and local Appalachian artists’ birdhouses and canes are also really popular.”
Each item is handpicked by Browning, who travels frequently in search of new merchandise for her fair trade shop.
She has been visiting Ecuador and Peru lately, looking for anything unusual and fun that would also be educational to her dedicated customers.
Everything in Browning’s shop has a story behind it – from how she purchased it, to who made it and the meaning behind the jewelry, home décor and artwork.
Even though she says the most frustrating part of her job is having the items shipped back to the United States, Browning must also vigorously search for translators and guides prior to her visits.
“Most of the people I work with do not have electricity, speak Indian or Spanish and live in huts and villages,” she said. “I have to find a guide who has their trust before I can even begin to think about visiting them.”
Browning’s goal is to discover things unusual and fun, things that cannot be found anywhere else.
She finds her job quite rewarding and loves the challenges and relationships she has built over time.
“The recession has made unique businesses disappear, and I want to be interesting to people,” she said. “I want Hands Around the World to be that store that you can’t find anywhere else, have items that you’ve never seen before.”
Hands Around the World is located at 111 E. Main St.
For more information about the store and the stories behind the merchandise, visit www.hands-around-the-world.com, call 753-8117 or email [email protected]