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Young campaigners win Fairtrade promise from school

November 28th, 2011

A Tower Hamlets secondary has launched a bid to be the borough’s first official Fairtrade school, thanks to campaigning students and local charity Otesha. It could mean children will wear sweatshop-free school uniforms and will see Fairtrade sports equipment used in PE lessons and ethical food in the canteen and staff room.

The initiative was championed by Year 9 girls determined to make sure Bishop Challoner Catholic Collegiate school buys products that give workers in poorer countries a better deal for the products they grow and sell. A meeting of the governors and head teacher agreed to adopt the students’ proposals after the student campaigners made the case for the ambitious plan.

Local charity the  Otesha Project worked with the school through the Otesha ‘Change Projects’ programme, supporting the girls as they explored Fairtrade issues and then as they created the policy and prepared to persuade the governors.

A student Fairtrade Action Group was formed, which held meetings with staff, surveyed local shops and created displays to enthuse other pupils, as well as holding Fairtrade cake bakes and ordering Fairtrade sports equipment, including the world’s first Fairtrade basketball.

The decision means the governors agreed to a whole-school Fairtrade policy. They made commitments including:

  • Making Fairtrade tea, coffee and sugar available in staff rooms and meetings, and Fairtrade products in vending machines  Buying Fairtrade sports balls
  • Using Fairtrade ingredients in all cooking
  • Exploring the use of uniforms made from Fairtrade cotton
  • Teaching Fairtrade issues in class

To achieve full Fairtrade status the school will have to hold further events and engage the wider community beyond the school itself.

The student campaign group’s next action is to meet school uniform suppliers to talk about how to ensure school clothing is not made in sweatshops.

They also plan at least one Fairtrade-themed event each term, including a cake bake sale using Fairtrade ingredients, with proceeds going to a charity of the girls’ choice. The message will be taken to mums and dads, too, when the girls run a stall at parents’ evening serving Fairtrade refreshments.

Edd Bell, Otesha’s Change Projects Co-ordinator, said:

“This is a huge achievement by these students. They really developed a passion for Fairtrade as we explored how it helps farmers and workers in poorer countries.

“Their leadership and creativity has made the whole school and wider community more aware and has changed school policy. We’re so proud of them, and we’d really like to help other London schools go down this path, too.”

Bishop Challoner student Skye was one of the young campaigners who persuaded head teacher Jackie Johnson and the governors to adopt the policy.

Skye said:

“It was scary at first but they liked our presentation and took on our ideas. I would like to achieve Fairtrade School status from this.”

Fellow student Caitlin added:

“My experience presenting to Mrs Johnson made me feel like I was really making a change to our school. I think Fairtrade is important because it helps people have a better life by being paid correctly for the hard work they do. It helps poverty and health because people are able to afford housing, food and medicine.”

Student Ellie said:

“Working on Fairtrade is such an eye-opener. It has shown me how to help the world, which is what I really want.”

Rhiannon Scutt, Head of Geography at Bishop Challoner, said:

“The enthusiasm of the girls to help the school achieve Fairtrade status is infectious. They have so many good ideas and are willing to give up their own time in order to change the lives of the producers, who we all rely on to produce our tea, coffee and more every day.

“We wouldn’t have kick started this fantastic work on becoming a Fairtrade school without Otesha. Their involvements really gave us some structure and a focus, importantly it helped train the students to run it. Empowering the students like this is definitely the way forward as it is the students who want to lead this change.”

To contact Otesha call 020 7377 2109. To find out more, visit www.otesha.org.uk

The Otesha ProjectUKis an environmental education charity based in Tower Hamlets, and works in fun, creative ways with young people to allow them to explore sustainability issues and develop leadership and employment skills, using cycle tours, theatre, workshops and its Change Projects programme

See the Fairtrade Bishop Challoner video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Lo-V2723Uw&feature=player_embedded

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