Bangladesh Artisans

Students Working at DesksI have the great privilege of being able to work in two very different worlds. For the first half of each weekday from September to June, I teach secondary school students in the areas of philosophy, world religion and mathematics. In the afternoons, I step into the world of retail and manage the Ten Thousand Villages store in Cobourg, Ontario.

Teaching and retail … I get to be a part of people’s lives in two very distinct ways.

As a professional teacher, I touch the lives of the future generation of our rich and vibrant country. As a store manager, I participate in the worldwide Fair Trade movement and touch the lives of people in distant lands, whom I will likely never meet. At the heart of both roles is a focus on people.

Truly, being a Ten Thousand Villages manager is simply another teaching role. While Villages is a non-profit retail business, its mission statement makes it clear that a large part of its mandate is to teach. We spread the message of Fair Trade and its benefits, and we relate the stories of our artisans and their changed lives that result from Fair Trade. Along with our calling to sell beautiful, handcrafted products comes a responsibility to educate our customers about the power their retail dollar has to make a positive difference in the world.

In my classroom, Fair Trade has a central place in my ethics unit in philosophy class. When we discuss Fair Trade and microfinance, sweatshop labour and coltan[1] mining, poverty and injustice, students come to understand the direct relationship between the products they buy and the true price that is paid – both in terms of human and environmental costs.

Fair Trade discussions develop into a means of action as students work to run a Fair Trade Christmas sale as a fundraiser, and then donate a commission on sales to an international development project affiliated with our school. Students experience the power of Fair Trade and the dignity that it provides.

As a store manager, I get to reach out to many schools in our district and help to facilitate Christmas sales each year. Last fall, six high schools ran successful sales, generating more than $10,000 in product sales, and received a 10% commission back to use for fundraising purposes.

If your school is interested in hosting a Fair Trade Christmas sale, contact the Ten Thousand Villages store nearest you or contact the Ten Thousand Villages Canada head office for more information.

Curriculum resources that I designed for the grade 12 philosophy class (HZT4U) on Fair Trade and microfinance can be found at the OSSTF website on their socially based curriculum units page.

[1] Coltan is a metal required for cell phone semi-conductors – mostly found in the Congo, where child labour and environmental degradation is the norm – in order for the world to have personal electronic devices.


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Wise Elephant Shopping Bag Ethiopian Dark Roast Coffee Beans Jigsaw Table Runner

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