Grover Beach woman works to make others' lives better

Special to The TribuneJanuary 29, 2013 

Alison Cebulla manages the HumanKind Fair Trade retail store in downtown San Luis Obispo.


Alison Cebulla, 28, has managed the HumanKind Fair Trade store at 982 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo for one year now. She graduated from Arroyo Grande High School and now lives in Grover Beach.

Alison came to the HumanKind store after working for the nonprofit Otter Project in San Luis Obispo, a marine conservation organization. There she trained volunteers at Montaña de Oro State Park to monitor the coastline.

At Arroyo Grande High, she was inspired by teacher Jim Empey, who taught advanced-placement environmental science and ran the Environmental Club. She became president of the club and started an environmental education program at Fairgrove Elementary School.

“I wanted to study something that seemed important for the environment,” she said.

During college, Alison studied in Peru. The Fair Trade program sent students to eco-villages around the world, where people are committed to living sustainably.

She lived in a fair trade coffee cooperative at a coffee plantation. “We learned about fair trade economics and the impact on people — indigenous farming versus conventional farming,” she said.

Alison sees HumanKind as connected to global development, noting, “A lot of the resource management that’s important right now is happening in developing countries.”

A well-known example is the rainforest being cut down in Brazil. “The more you improve the livelihoods of people in developing countries, the better chance we have of preserving valued resources,” she said.

At HumanKind, Alison has “learned what it takes to run a small business,” she said. “We are a nonprofit, and we sell handmade items by people who are part of a fair-trade cooperative in developing countries, and they earn a fair living wage to make these products.”

“We’re empowering women to be in business and get an education,” she emphasized. “It’s important to realize how much impact it has on a village when women are educated. Higher education levels are linked with lower birthrates and lower infant mortality.”

Women become part of the democratic process in the cooperative. They participate in governing it, whether or not men are in the cooperative, so that empowers them. In the greater society, women may not be allowed to vote or hold office.

In India and Nepal, women make scarves out of discarded saris and participate in a cooperative. This helps keep them out of prostitution by teaching them a livelihood.

Fair Trade involves men, too. In Haiti, men take old oil drums and, using a hammer and chisel, turn them into beautiful pieces of art such as wall hangings of a tree of life, birds or musicians.

For Valentine’s Day, HumanKind has all kinds of gift items, including soapstone hearts from Kenya, paper heart boxes from India, Rwandan cards and jewelry.

“I want everyone to think about giving a fair-trade gift. You’re giving more than the item ... you’re giving a gift of hope to a village artisan in the developing world.”

Alison has a blog about being kind. She went on a six-month project to be as kind as possible, because someone stole $600 in electronics out of her purse in May. She felt maybe she was putting out too much negative energy.

Read her blog at Reach the store at or 805-594-1220.

Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Gayle Cuddy at 489-1026 or

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