By Sue Botos
When most people take a sip of their morning coffee, they probably don’t think of those behind that daily jolt, aside from their neighborhood barista. But thanks to Magnificat High School’s Fair Trade Task Force, students are learning how their purchases of coffee, chocolate, jewelry and some clothing items can benefit workers in developing countries.
The group’s hard work has also resulted in Magnificat being recognized as the fourth Fair Trade High School in the country by Fair Trade Colleges and Universities USA, which began at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 2008.
According to Magnificat campus minister Dennis Hjort, a group of students approached him two years ago with the idea of bringing fair trade items and awareness to the school. “This was a spinoff of our peace and justice group. They stepped forward and wanted to focus on fair trade,” he explained.
These students, some of whom have graduated, spent countless hours researching fair trade and how this social movement directly benefits the laborers and their communities in such areas as Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean by ensuring people a fair wage despite impoverished working conditions.
The Fair Trade Task Force for this year is made up of seniors Zahra Nayyeri, Jo Kilbane Myers and Elisa Mascia, and juniors Kenzie Delaney and Dana Vasquez.
“Fair trade to me is a product uniquely made, not so corporate, but handmade,” said Vasquez during an interview at Magnificat. “It’s about giving back and the money going towards a good cause,” she added.
“Mr. Hjort brought the idea to our attention,” continued Vasquez, who, as a member of the group last year, worked with faculty, student and parent groups to find out what activities were plausible for the school.
“Ultimately, when we got the fair trade resolution passed by the board (of directors), that was a big step,” Hjort commented. He added it was through the efforts of the students that the school was able to satisfy the criteria for becoming a Fair Trade School. Those criteria include the establishment of a Fair Trade Committee; fair trade products available for sale at the school bookstore and cafe; fair trade products, such as coffee, served at faculty meetings; a fair trade purchasing policy and accompanying statement supporting the movement; and an educational campaign at the school.
Hjort, who said his passion for the movement grew during his years at John Carroll University, felt it was important for the students to spearhead the work, even though this resulted in a longer time to reach the recognition.
Vasquez said the Fair Trade Task Force has also inspired other students to join the Fair Trade Family, a group of about 30 that helps with activities such as the Fair Trade Cafe, a rolling beverage cart that provides a weekly selection of hot chocolate, tea and coffee beverages.
The students are quick to point out that taste, as well as cost, is comparable, if not better than, brand-name items. “Cost depends on the product. There’s a base price which the (retail) price can’t drop below. Generally, it depends on the world market,” explained Hjort. He said that because they deal directly with the workers, the “middleman” is eliminated, and costs are very reasonable. This fact is confirmed by a look around Magnificat’s bookstore, where stylish scarves and intricate beaded bracelets can be purchased for $12. Each item is handmade, so no two are alike.
“Our coffee is significantly less,” said Vasquez, who is working on a business plan for the cafe. Her claim is supported by a look at the menu, where a medium coffee, tea or hot chocolate is $2 and a large $2.50, much lower than the corner coffeehouse.
Even students not in the Fair Trade group have been inspired, according to Hjort. He said one student was responsible for researching and securing a supply of braided bracelets, or “pulseras,” which turned out to be one of the most popular items among students.
Moira Clark, dean of student life and formation, commented that the student-led venture is also an important leadership exercise. “It’s important that the students do this. This is where leadership development skills are honed,” she said.
Anyone who wants to do some Fair Trade holiday shopping can check out Magnificat’s Christmas Sale, Dec. 13 and 14, after school. About six Fair Trade vendors will be featured.