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Wauwatosa Catholic Students Become Advocates of Fair Trade

Fifth grade students learn about the products they use and the people and working conditions that made them.

(By Elizabeth Howayeck, International Mission Coordinator, World Mission Ministries)

During the last few months, fourth and fifth graders at Wauwatosa Catholic School have been learning about how they are connected to everything they consume: from the clothes they wear to the food they eat. How are they connected, you might ask? Well, it is through the people who make them, our sisters and brothers around the world. Many of these students, and many of us, have never stopped to think about where the products we are buying come from and who made them. How might the person be treated who sewed my shirt or who picked the bananas I ate? Sarah McElroy, a fifth grade teacher, decided to explore these connections with her students and to investigate alternatives including the option to purchase fair trade products. Fair trade is a system of exchange that takes into account a fair price for the producer, just and humane working conditions, environmentally sustainable practices, and reinvestment in communities, all helping to better the lives of the producers, most of whom reside in the global south.

Ms. McElroy began by pulling a variety of resources to enhance her student’s experience as they learned about fair trade. She says, “With guidance from Fair Trade USA, we tracked the route a banana takes to get from the banana farm to a supermarket in the United States. We investigated the various jobs involved in banana trading and began to appreciate the work that goes into something that we at times take for granted. My goal was for the students to understand how what you pay at the market is then divided among all the hard workers and that sometimes it is not divided equally or fairly. The students also participated in a scavenger hunt to find the origin of items in their home and school that they use on a daily basis. They needed to have an awareness of where their belongings were coming from to really stress how interconnected the world is.” Students then collaborated to research companies that do engage in fair trade and others who do not and as consumers, what they could do to change many companies’ unjust trade practices. They had a visit from a local fair trade store, Four Corners of the World, to learn more about certain fair trade products that are available. 

Two weeks ago, I spent part of my afternoon with these students talking about fair trade and why this might be something that Jesus would preach in his day. When I first asked who knew what fair trade was, forty hands shot up and each one of them had something to say. Wow! We talked about the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan and The Beatitudes. We reflected on how Jesus always took the side of the poor and marginalized and that our faith calls us to put his message into action. Supporting fair trade is this action. “I want to teach my students about fair trade to impart to them the idea of social responsibility. It is essential for students to understand how interconnected we are- that even if we don’t know a child thousands of miles away, we can still do things in our own lives to make that child’s life the best it can be. We have the ability to make very big changes in our world by taking very small steps in our everyday lives,” comments Ms. McElroy.

Sometimes we forget how much our children have to teach us about global justice and solidarity. Thanks for the reminder!

(Thank you to Sarah McElroy for story contributions and photo)

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