By the age of 10, young Vivienne Harr had sold over $100,000 worth of lemonade with the aim of ending child slavery; her efforts turned into a full-fledged business with Make a Stand Lemon-Aid, selling Fair Trade Certified™ beverages to the masses. In the same year, Media Elementary School in Pennsylvania bridged the gap between the hardworking individuals that harvest our chocolate and the children who consume it, inviting cocoa farmers from the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative in Ghana to speak at a school assembly about the very real impact of Fair Trade on their lives and communities.
What two things do these stories have in common? Fair Trade, of course. But the other? Youth. Young people under the age of 20 have long driven the Fair Trade movement forward, and yet, there has never really been a platform for them to collectively organize around Fair Trade. That is until Emma Willard High School of Troy, New York decided to go Fair Trade in 2010, using the existing Fair Trade Towns and Universities (now Fair Trade Campaigns) model. Four schools soon followed suit, and voila! The Fair Trade Schools  campaign was born in early 2014.
Fair Trade Campaigns , a national network of Fair Trade advocates in 170 towns and universities, officially kick-started its Fair Trade Schools initiative on February 4 of this year. This brought in 15 schools from far flung corners of the U.S, ranging from Wakeland High School in Frisco, Texas to Philips Exeter in Exeter, New Hampshire. Five, like Media Elementary School, had already been self-declared Fair Trade Schools prior to the launch in accordance with the principles of Fair Trade Towns and Universities. The remaining ten are in the pilot stage. They’re now working to fulfill the three goals of the program: assemble a fair trade team; commit to fair trade education by hosting educational events and classroom discussions; and source fair trade products by providing them for sale in the cafeteria, offices and vending machines.
The guidelines may seem simple, but the time and dedication that go into making them a reality are anything but. Yet Fair Trade Schools are taking the nation by storm: Just shy of three weeks into the program, five of the ten pilot schools have already completed the three required steps.
Schools have devised fun and crafty ways to meet these goals. During a simulation activity held in a fourth-grade classroom at Media Elementary School, Fair Trade Town committee members divided the students into three sections, with one group being a fair-trade cocoa cooperative and the others representing conventional farming groups.
“They used lima beans instead of cocoa beans,” said Mariana Lamaison Sears, a parent and Fair Trade committee member at Media Elementary. “Each group had to count their beans, get money from the banker, and received cards with good or bad things that could happen (like losing their beans to mold). It was basically Monopoly!”
Through activities like these, Fair Trade Schools is able to demonstrate the direct impact of fair trade on farmers and workers, and underscore its importance to children across the nation.
So what would compel a student to dedicate countless hours of their time to improving the life of a farmer in another country? For some, like Nabai Habtemariam, a committee member of the Fair Trade campaign at St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley, California, words like ‘Buy Fair. Be Fair’ invoke a sense of personal obligation to the Fair Trade movement.
“My parents both grew up in poverty,” said Habtemariam. “They worked on their parents' farms in Eritrea for much of their younger lives. They struggled because they were not offered what Fair Trade is offering to scores of farmers worldwide. I want to give people, like my parents, an opportunity to earn what they deserve."
Regardless of their different reasons for getting involved, everyone involved in the Fair Trade Schools campaign share one overarching belief that binds them together: Fair Trade is the future.
Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world…it's the only thing that ever has.” Indeed, children’s capacity to be conscious consumers and change the world is motivating their peers, parents and communities to do the same. Building on the strong presence of young people active in Fair Trade, Fair Trade Schools is an exciting new platform for youth groups to organize on a large-scale in a way that has never been done before.
Watch out world: With the launch of Fair Trade Schools, the Nabai Habtemariams of the world are ready to make a big difference, and they’re not holding back.