WORKING CONDITIONS

By Hannah Carter-Brown
on March 13, 2017

Today (Monday) for the first time in a long time I'm actually looking forward to going to work. Being that it's a Monday morning is surprising in itself but despite waking up all cosy under the covers this morning I was eager to get out of bed and start the day.

One of the reasons why I'm happier today is I'm starting to feel a difference in my body. I have finally been given a sitting/standing desk at work (I volunteer for Fair Grounds, but am employed elsewhere!). It took me 9 months to pursuade my employers I needed a standing desk due to chronic back pain (caused by years of sitting incorrectly and the wrong equipment at work) and was getting to the point where I was going to have to rethink my career (sounds extreme but it's true). I've had the desk for several weeks now and I'm beginning to feel a difference in myself. It's one of those electric ones you can change to any height and also has 4 presets so you can automatically set the right heights for sitting or standing. It's brilliant! Many of my colleagues have commented on it and particularly enjoy having mini standing meetings with me when it's in the standing position.

I see so many people sitting incorrectly or not having the right equipment to support their daily activities on a weekly basis and it makes me want to do something to help because I know what can happen if you don't look after yourself. Firstly, ask your employer for a workstation assessment and get the support you need - you are entitled to it!

Unfortunately, millions of people around the world suffer quietly at work for all sorts of different reasons but for many of the people who make our clothes, food and even the luxury items we don't actually need, suffer the most in appalling working conditions. You've all heard of sweatshops? Well you should, because they still exist. It's terrible in this day and age of extreme wealth, knowledge and technology that more that half the world's population are living below the poverty line and it's time to do something about it.

You might ask what you can do, as an individual in a global world where the rich and powerful seem to have the loudest voices. It might seem an impossible task but start small. Do what you can and make a tiny difference. All those tiny things add up and can have a huge impact. One thing you could start to do is become a more conscious and aware consumer. Find out where your clothes, food and extras come from and try to only buy from local, ethical or organic sources. It might be easier said than done, but there are lots of organisations out there who can point you in the right direction.

Fair Grounds supports producers around the world, making beautiful products - perfect gifts for that special person or a nice treat for yourself. Many of them made by hand and skilfully crafted, the workers are paid a fair price for their goods and are able to provide for their families.

An important aspect of Fair Trade is that the working environments are clean and safe, with the employees given rights and able to have meal and comfort breaks, which all help to ensure work satisfaction and enjoyment. In a Co-operative organisation such as the Mexican Jewellery Collective we work with, every member will get a say in the business decisions. Members of the Multipurpose Co-operative in the Philippines who also supply Fair Grounds with our range of beautiful recycled newspaper tableware can choose whether to work from home, which can be useful if they have children to look after, or if they live a distance from the workshop. Alternatively they can choose to work centrally in the workshop/warehouse and one big benefit of this is to be able to work with colleagues, socialise and have easy access to all the materials.

It is shocking that so many people around the world, including children are denied basic human rights and forced to work extremely long hours for next to nothing in appalling, inhumane and life-threatening conditions, so consumers in certain countries can be supplied with the things they want, cheaply. This has got to stop and Fair Trade is leading the way in showing a business model that respects and values all people.

Fair Grounds is proud to be a member of BAFTS (the British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers) www.bafts.org.uk If you are looking for a local fair trade shop, an online ethical business, or a supplier, then the BAFTS website can point you in the right direction! All members have to comply with an ethical standard, based on the 10 principles of the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation). BAFTS also facilitates and promotes events connected to the theme of Fair Trade and is raising the profile of ethics in trade, not just among dedicated supporters, but also a wider audience. Please have a look at their website!

FAIR TRADE MAKES A DIFFERENCE

By Nina Carter-Brown
on March 11, 2017

Fairtrade recognises and acts upon the fact that all people, no matter where they are born deserve to be valued and treated as equal. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states:

“Everyone has the human right to work, to just conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to sufficient pay to ensure a dignified existence for one’s self and one’s family, and the human right to join a trade union.”

When reading the UDHR it’s apparent that some people in the world have more access than others to the rights and as a result are living better, safer, healthier lives.

 Business as usual in the current world order means the gap between those living with wealth and those living in poverty, is increasing. Multi-national corporations benefit financially while farmers and labourers suffer. This was one of the reasons that motivated me to set up Fair Grounds, a Fair Trade social enterprise, 11 years ago. I wanted to prove that business could be conducted in a way where no one was exploited, it’s not easy but it is possible. Having the opportunity to travel and meet the people I am working with has been both heart breaking and encouraging.

Project manager Nina meeting the fair trade producers in near Taxco, Mexico.

Hearing life stories of how surviving can be a daily struggle, concerns if there will be food to eat, money to pay for children’s education or for medicine when family members are unwell. Then as I’m told that with income from fairtrade sales they have a bigger house, with electricity this time, their children are loving going to school, funeral costs have been paid and food grown and bought. Fairtrade does make a difference.

Supporters and campaigners of Fair Trade will know it is a long-term lifestyle and consumer choice made by individuals wanting to play their part in moving towards a world of justice and peace alongside others. I am pleased to be living in a country where there is an annual fortnight that focuses on Fairtrade, highlighting the issues to people who may not know just how important it is, and can then make informed choices.

Children very quickly grasp the concept of unfairness in relation to global trade and poverty and it is great to once again be working with fairandfunky in Halifax at their ‘Take a Break’ conference for schools, to promote in fun and creative ways the importance of looking after the world through caring for all people and the environment.

Fairtrade is vitally important, not only because it changes lives, but the values and principles it is built on – mutual co-operation and conversation, trust, openness, equality and justice are more needed than ever in the current global political climate, and the more places these values can be shared and embodied, the better for everyone!

---

This was blog post was taken from fairandfunky.com where Nina was a guest blogger during fair trade fortnight 2017.

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION

By Hannah Carter-Brown
on January 14, 2016

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela.

This was the most popular quote that came up when I googled ‘education quote’. Nelson Mandela was a great leader but it took a long time for people to listen to what he had to say. Listening is a big part of being educated, and when we are educated we are capable of great things. We can use our educated minds to make a positive change in the world. 

Education is a very important part of what Fair Grounds aims to achieve, creating a positive change in the world. The business side, the buying and selling of goods, exists not only to provide an income for our producers in developing countries, but enable us to deliver educational workshops and resources to young people in schools and colleges within South and West Yorkshire. For the past 7 years we have been successfully co-ordinating and delivering learning activities for children and young people from ages 5-18 around the subject of Fair Trade and other global issues. Tying in with the National Curriculum, as well as informal sessions with youth groups, our workshops are tailored for the needs of those we work with.

The resources we use have been produced by ourselves, and are based on the real-life stories and experiences of the co-operatives and producers we work with around the world. Our aim is to bring the issues of Fair Trade, Recycling and Ethical Enterprise to young people in an engaging, real and creative way. We are currently developing our Fair Trade resource pack with one of our voluntary directors, Steph, who is also a primary school teacher, and myself, a graphic designer.

Years ago, I studied Geography A-Level and one of the key things I still remember today was when we were studying global populations, poverty and international aid programs.

‘Give a man a fish and he will feed his family for a day. Give a man a fishing rod and he will feed his family for a lifetime.’

Basically, it’s all very well giving money, food, water etc directly to those who need it, but it is more sustainable and better in the long run if you provide the tools and education in which people can support and provide for themselves. Fair Grounds enables people to earn an income by making products in traditional ways for the western world and as a direct result can provide shelter, food, medicine and education for themselves and their families. 

We have been working with Elijah Subha for over 8 years. Initially we were introduced to him through a friend of a friend who met him while volunteering in Jinja, Uganda, and we have developed a great working relationship with him. Nina even went to visit him in Uganda, in 2011, and learned how to make the recycled magazine bead bracelets (and decided she wouldn't give up the day job!). She also made a video of Elijah carving a small giraffe mask out of a piece of wood. He learnt wood craft from his grandfather, and his natural creative flare meant he was able to teach himself the finer details needed to produce beautiful masks in his one room workshop with the use of a couple of simple tools.

With the money Elijah made from selling his jewellery and masks to Fair Grounds, he was able to move out of his parent's home and rent a room with electricity, which he now shares with his wife and 3 children. His next ambition is to own some land and chickens which would give him an income alongside the jewellery and masks. He would also like to take evening classes as he had to drop out of school when he was a child, because his family could not afford it.

With the support of Nina and Fair Grounds, Elijah has been able to pay for his eldest children, twin sons - Waswa and Kato aged 4, to go to school for the past year, and is delighted they will have a better education than he did. They absolutely love school and learning, and we heard from Elijah that one of the boys was in tears recently when he was ill and had to stay home and miss a few days of lessons!

Elijah's twin boys, aged 4  Elijah's twin boys, aged 4

If you would like to know more about the educational work we do please visit our education page or get in touch with Nina. 

WORLD CLASS COFFEE

By Hannah Carter-Brown
on January 07, 2016

Back in May last year (yes we've seen another whole year go by!) I posted a blog about how some celebrities do an amazing job to promote good, worthy causes in the world. It's a constant battle we have to fight, and it often feels like there's not a lot you (an individual) can do. So we need people like Hugh Jackman 'Hollywood Superstar' to step up to the plate and use their fame, fortune, connections and media attention to highlight a problem or a need. We can do our bit by supporting, not criticising them. 

Back in September I had the amazing privilege of overindulging in a trip of a lifetime to America. It had been a longtime in the making but this was a really special experience for me. Even more so because I was able to share it with my sister, who kindly went along with everything I wanted to see and do. I did, however, promise her at least one vegetarian/vegan meal of her choice and the best fair trade cup of coffee in New York City! On our second morning in the Big Apple we caught the subway from Brooklyn to Chambers Street and walked the short distance to The Laughing Man, on Duane Street - Hugh Jackman's fair trade coffee shop.

It was a lot smaller than I expected, just one tiny store with no where to sit except a fake grass area on the sidewalk outside. I guess it is more of a 'coffee to go' type of place. Despite being slightly disappointed that Hugh wasn't there himself (how epic would that have been!) we had the warmest of welcomes and a nice chat with the Barista whilst Nina decided what she wanted. I was asked what I wanted, "Oh no" I said "I don't drink coffee but I'll try some of hers". Nina ordered the coffee from the Dukale, the original coffee farmer Hugh had met in Ethiopia. We paid and sat outside on the fake grass in the sun. It wasn't a particular scenic street but that didn't matter. It was these little moments that really made the trip special. 

Nina at The Laughing Man, New York  Hannah at The Laughing Man, New York

Nina sipped her coffee and held it out for me to try. She has been trying for years to get me to like coffee but all to no avail. However, I'll tell you now, that coffee is the only coffee I've ever tasted where I haven't pulled a face of disgust. There is hope for me yet! Nina enjoyed her cuppa and bought a bag of coffee beans to bring home with her, which has now all sadly been drunk. We shall have to go back to New York just to get some more coffee!

Even in such a big, bustling, corporate, international city such as New York where it is far to easy to nip into a Starbucks, it felt great to be able to support a local business I knew would be helping people all over the world. And I know for a fact Nina is more than happy to support people anytime if it involves good coffee!

So if you ever find yourself in New York in the Tribeca area of Lower Manhattan, pop into The Laughing Man and enjoy a world class cup of coffee!

CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD

By Hannah Carter-Brown
on December 27, 2015

**Apologises, I wrote this before Christmas but didn’t get round to posting it and I don't want you to miss out!**

 

With Christmas only a few days away, the fun (and sometimes slightly stressful) last minute shopping and wrapping of presents is being done. I feel like I’ve got a nice selection of goodies to give away, but I’ve totally flaked when it comes to Christmas Cards. Usually I make my own, but this year, with so much going on, I’ve not even thought about it. So, to make up for it, here is my christmas card to you all… Merry Christmas! 

One year I would really love to spend Christmas in another country, to be part of someone else’s family and experience their Christmas traditions. Germany would be a good one - great food, great people, great Christmas markets and hopefully some snow! Growing up in Christian household full of tradition and family time, I certainly have a fixed view on what Christmas is, or should be about. Snow is a bonus of course, but I just can’t imagine being in a country, celebrating Christmas, with the sun shining outside, dressed in shorts and t-shirt. That, to me, would not feel right. But for those who do live in hot, sunny countries, I’m sure Christmas is just as magical and family orientated as it is for me. 

This got me thinking about how some of our producers around the world will be celebrating their Christmas….

 

In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from December 12th to January 6th. Children perform the ‘Posada’ processions which means ‘Inn or Lodging’ telling the story of Mary and Joseph looking for somewhere to stay. People’s houses are decorated on the outside with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns. Children are given candles and clay figures of Mary, Joseph and the donkey. They sing a song outside people’s houses but are told there is no room. Eventually they are welcomed into someone’s house to say prayers, and have a party with food, games and fireworks. On Christmas eve the final Posada takes place and the baby jesus is put in the manager and families then go to midnight church services, after which are more fireworks. 

In Palestine, Christmas is very important as Bethlehem was the place where Jesus was born. On Christmas Eve there is a parade through the town with bagpipes (our influence!), with people dressed up as Santa Claus giving out sweets. The main streets are decorated with lights. There is also a church service ‘Mass of the Nativity’ held in the Church of the Nativity - a tiny church built over the place where Jesus is thought to have been born. People sing Christmas Carols outside. 

In The Philippines, people attend early morning masses, the last being on Christmas day. As most Filipinos are Christian, it is the most important holiday and has a mixture of USA/UK and Filipino traditions such as Santa Claus, Christmas trees, cards and carols! They have their own traditional decoration called a ‘parol’ which is a bamboo pole with a lighted star lantern. On Christmas eve, people go to church for mass followed by a midnight feast called Noche Buena (an open house style celebration with friends, family and neighbours). 

South Africa also has a number of our own traditions - christmas fir trees, leaving stockings out for Santa on Christmas Eve and turkey (or duck), mince pies and Christmas Pudding on Christmas day! In contrast to us, South African’s celebrate Christmas during their summer season so often eat outside or have a barbecue!

 

One of our volunteers, David, spent a year in Malawi with a family who make the woven baskets and hats we sell (not yet online). This was David’s Christmas experience in Malawi….

 

At Christmas we relish the tradition of our culture and our family. In Malawi there were no decorations, no mulled wine, no evening sessions of baking spicy biscuits while enjoying a wee dram. I pined for my Christmas that was thousands of miles away. My first thought was to try and bring the British Christmas to Malawi, but soon realised that so much of what makes my Christmas’ back home are not transportable. So instead of forcing the issue I decided to attempt a marriage of a British and Malawian Christmas. 

I was to spend Christmas in my best friend Auden’s rural village. In Malawi Christmas means chicken, rice, Fanta orange, a new outfit and lots of singing and dancing. To this I wanted to add decorations, presents and Father Christmas. Lots of generous friends and family from the UK provided the gifts and Auden and I spent hours wrapping them in cheap Christmas paper. The day before we left for the village we headed into town to buy all the food and came back laden. It was decided that Auden would travel on our motorbike with all the packages and I would go on the local transport with the food.

By the time I entered the village it was so hot and buzzing with excitement. After a hearty meal we sat around the charcoal burner and made origami decorations. When we went outside to hang them on the hut Auden told me that in Malawi kids call the stars ‘Christmas’. I looked up and in a village with no electricity and therefore zero light pollution the night sky is epic. Shooting stars are everywhere and galaxy smudges are easily visible. This was more spectacular than any city Christmas lights.

Everyone wakes up early in the village, but unlike the UK where it is a mad rush to open presents, here daily tasks need to be done. I helped in collecting water and sweeping the courtyard before overseeing the rice pudding we were cooking for breakfast. Straight after breakfast we got onto lunch prep and this communal event turned into a feast of 5 spit roasted chickens.

After lunch and as the hot afternoon drew in Auden sneaked into the house for our big surprise. A few minutes later he reappeared as Father Christmas! This is not a figure commonly recognised in Malawi and the dogs barked and stalked him like a hyena. Once everyone was over the shock it was present time! In true Malawian style they danced and sang as Father Christmas handed out the presents. For the rest of the afternoon the singing and dancing continued and by evening we were all exhausted.

This Christmas I am back in the UK and missing my Malawian Christmas. I skyped Auden in the village on Christmas Day and was happy to hear that this year they were roasting a pig. Just two years before we bought his father two pigs and today they have 22 (well 21 now). He said that my peculiar British customs have now been adopted and are now part of their family traditions. I love that Auden’s first child, who was born this year, will accept them as his own.”

 

Merry Christmas everyone!

 

 

 

 

BLACK FRIDAY

By Nina Carter-Brown
on November 27, 2015

Earlier this week I visited an Iranian man (B) who lives 4 bus stops away from me in Leeds. A few years ago when I was living in Bradford, my housemates and I were part of a hosting project run by a local charity. We offered our spare room to destitute asylum seekers while they were working on their claim for asylum which if successful would mean they were able to stay in the UK as a refugee. B lived with us for 15 months and there were challenging moments as well as many shared conversations, meals and joyful times. He was eventually given leave to remain and became a refugee in the UK. With this new status came a sense of relief, freedom and possibilities for his future, we celebrated with him but lost touch when he moved to London.

A few weeks ago I was in Leeds city centre waiting for a bus home and B was behind me!  We were getting the same bus and realised we are almost neighbours. Finding a place to live in London proved too expensive and difficult for B who is unable to work because of a disability, so he moved back to Yorkshire. I promised I would visit him for a cup of tea which I have done this week. Over tea, fruit and pistachio nuts he told me the story of his journey, having to leave Iran and how he eventually got to the UK. It was dangerous, expensive, uncertain and frightening but he had no choice. It’s impossible for me to understand what millions of people are currently going through, fleeing their homes and their lives for dangerous uncertainty on the road and in the sea to reach a place of safety and freedom. But as a human it is possible for me to understand that there is something more important than national borders and all the rhetoric that goes with them and it is this the world/humanity needs to find now.

I was humbled to leave B’s house with a carrier bag full of gifts (see photo), from someone who doesn’t have much money but wanted to share what he had with me in a spirit of generosity. I am learning a lot.

Now I am thinking about tomorrow which recently in the UK has become known, as in the USA as ‘Black Friday.’ People will go shopping either online or on the high street and try to grab (maybe even literally) as many bargain items as they can. It’s all about spending and consumerism and ultimately about the shops making BIG profits, while shoppers, after the exchange of money are left with things. Profit and Things, that is what Christmas and life in general seems to be about more and more each year.

This might sound hypocritical coming from me because I run a shop, I sell things and yes the aim is to make a profit, which as it’s a social enterprise goes straight back into the business as well as paying me to live! It’s a Fair Trade shop and I’m trying to demonstrate that within a capitalist world it is possible to make a profit without exploiting anyone along the way. I believe this is possible.

I’m in a very privileged position of knowing and working with some amazing people around the world, and what has been very much in my thoughts this week and links the experience of asylum seekers, refugees and the fair trade producers I work with is that we don’t choose where we are born. This can mean all the difference to living a life of wealth or poverty, education or no education, health or sickness, living in a warzone, living in an area prone to natural disasters and climate change or can even determine whether you live or die in certain situations. This was experienced recently by one of the people I work closely with in Uganda who following an accident needed £300 for life saving surgery. £300 for life. Tomorrow people will spend double, triple that on TVs, tablets, phones, furniture.....

I’m pleased to tell you he has fully recovered, but it made me understand that where we’re born can make all the difference to the lives we are able to lead. I think the important thing to focus on is the undeniable fact that we are all human and share that no matter where we live on Earth, that should be the starting point.

I listened to this song ‘Isn’t it a Pity’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLn3FT9BsRs) this week and was struck by the lines:

“we take each other's minds
and we're capable of taking each other's souls
we do it every day
just to reach some financial goal”

Fair Grounds won’t be offering anything at a sale price tomorrow. Everything we sell has been handmade with skill and love by people around the world who have been paid the only way they should be – fairly – for their work. I can tell you stories of the lives of the people who have made the things we are selling, human stories which we can all relate to in some way. And any profit we do make goes towards supporting more producers and increasing orders with the people we are currently work with and this can be truly life changing/life saving.

 

CULTURES AND TRADITIONS

By Hannah Carter-Brown
on November 05, 2015

Remember remember the 5th November...

Today is big date in the British calendar where thousands of people up and down the country will be wrapping up warm and heading down to their local schools, parks or neighbour gardens to stand around a bonfire and watch fireworks. I'm a big fan of Bonfire night as I have many happy childhood memories of this particular event and even today, it still makes me feel like a kid. Ask anyone what bonfire night means to them and they will probably say bonfires, fireworks, melting marshmellows, funfair ride, candy floss, and sparklers. Despite being a fun and community based event, the 5th Novemer also has its dangers. Ask a fireman and they will probably say it's the busiest, worst night of their year.

Remember remember the 5th November, gun powder, treason and plot.... This annual tradition began when in 1605, a gang of Roman Catholic activists decided to attempt an assassination of King James I, who had failed to end the Catholic persecutions under his predecessor Queen Elizabeth. The idea was to blow up the Houses of Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder which they smuggled into the cellar. One man, Guy Fawkes, who was left in charge to light the fuse, was discovered and caught after an anonymous letter was sent to warn a politican not to go near Parliament. Fawkes was tortured until he gave up the names of his fellow conspirators, and later tried, convicted and executed. The 5th Nov was celebrated the following year as a day of thanksgiving, a idea which has since been forgotten. However the figure of Guy Fawkes is still remembered today with people making straw dummies, dressed in clothes to burn on the bonfire. Interestingly the only place in the UK to not do this is St. Peter's School in York, which Guy Fawkes attended. Fireworks represent the explosives that never went off in parliament.

In many other countries bonfires are used to celebrate different religious or historical events/figures, or signal the end of a period of time. 13th century traditions initialy saw burning straw dummies to drive away evil spirits. Throughout central Europe people jump over fires to ensure youth and fertility. This is particularly a big thing in Iran. Bonfires are lit during the night to 'keep the sun alive' until the morning. As people jump over them they sing "zardi-ye man az toh, sorkhi-ye toh az man" which means 'my yellow is yours, your red is mine' - you want to give the fire your pallor, sickness and problems in return for warmth and energy. In India, people light bonfires outside their houses to celebrate a recent wedding or new born. In Scotland, the annual rock and dance music Wickerman Festival (which is inspired from the film The Wickerman and Celtic Druid rituals) features the burning of a large wooden effigy on the last night. In Italy, the Panevin celebration involves a straw witch dressed in old clothes which is burnt on the bonfire. The witch symbolizes the past and the direction of the smoke indictaes whether the new year is going to be good or bad. It's interesting to find out about the differences and similarities between cultures around the world.

One of the great things about Fair Grounds and working with people in other countries is learning about these different cultures and traditions. In many cases, the support and income we provide them with, helps them continue and maintain those traditions. Our connection with the Porgai community in Sittilingi (Southern India), for example, has enabled local village women to re-ignite their old age tradition of beautiful embroidered artwork and pass on their knowledge and skills to younger generations. With a long history taking great pride in their colourful appearance and creative designs its very fitting that these Lambadi woman have called themselves 'Porgai' which means 'pride'.

Maintaining traditions is such an important issue. What makes the world unique and interesting is the diversity of the human race. And many cultures in less economically developing countries are being lost to the needs and desires of the fast past western world. Many countries in Africa, for example, are loosing their traditional textile industries through the provision of second-hand markets selling clothes which were given to charity shops in the UK and other developing countries. So locals are no longer wearing the local traditional clothes. Similarly, people are encouraged to produce products that 'we' dare I say 'need' or 'want to buy' moving them away from their traditional skill set, which are slowly becoming, like the Dodo, extinct.

By supporting fair trade and businesses who work with producers around the world, we can help keep these skills and traditions going for future generations.



[sources from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonfire and http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/06/second-hand-clothing-donations-kenya]

HAPPY WORLD FAIR TRADE DAY

By Hannah Carter-Brown
on May 09, 2015

Today is world fair trade day, and it's nice to know that we are playing a small part in supporting this movement and contributing towards a better, more sustainable world. Fair Grounds has been going for about 9 years now and fair trade has been a thing (as we know it) since the 1980s. We've still got a long way to go, but fair trade does make a difference, and is something everyone can get involved with. 

It's always exciting to hear when a well known person with a great following and access to publicity world wide, takes an interest in fair trade, gets behind it and uses their influence to promote it. Last year, I found out that Hugh Jackman had gone to Ethiopia and met with some coffee producers there. He was so struck by the quality of the coffee, the amounts of work involved in it's production and the amount of poverty around the farmers that he came back to New York and helped set up an initiative called Laughing Man Worldwide. 

This is what Hugh Jackman has to say 

"I don't think it matters whether you have a celebrity profile or not. We all want to contribute in the most effective and practical way we can at work, in the community, or in our home. This desire is natural to who we are. When I left Ethiopia with the promise to use my voice on behalf of the community, I thought my voice was the most powerful tool I had. But after speaking at the United Nations, I realized that it was time to act on a practical level, not just talk about or drink fair trade coffee, and enter the marketplace to trigger change from within. I started the Laughing Man marketplace to highlight the stories of the entrepreneurs willing to help others and the people who share in their success."

Find out more about Laughing Man Worldwide

You can watch a video about Hugh Jackman's trip to Ethiopia.

EARTH DAY - CAN WE REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

By Hannah Carter-Brown
on May 02, 2015

One day last week was apparently 'EarthDay'. I didn't know about it until Twitter informed me some of the people I follow were tweeting about it. So let me enlighten you on the subject... it's a day to remind everyone how beautiful and precious the Earth is and what we should be doing to help preserve it and not destroy it at the rate we are. 

The most poignant messages I read was 'the earth is not ours to squander or exploit' and 'To future generations... sorry.'

 

The way I see it is that the Earth is a gift. It provides us with everything we need to live and get by - food, water, medicines and materials to build shelter and tools. Everything comes from the earth. These basic elements are how everything started and is still the case in some parts of the world. Some people manage to live very simple lives, whilst the rest of us have been enveloped in a world of consumerism and 'stuff'. Industry and technology have developed so fast in the last 100 years it's a bit scary to think what the future will be like in other 100 years and how people’s values have and will change. 

I've never travelled outside Europe to what is known as a less economically developed country, but I know people who have, and many of them have commented that a lot of the people they have met in those countries don’t have much ‘stuff’ but this does not hold them back from living joyful lives, with their families and extended communities. Although, for so many of these people every day is a struggle to survive – getting clean water (which can often involve walking miles), having a home, food and education, as well as generating an income. Much of the reason for this is due to the unequal distribution of the world’s resources and exploitation of the world’s economically poorer countries, by the world’s economically richer countries (including the UK) and multi-national corporations.

But what I want to think about today is ‘Does having material possessions equate to happiness?’ No, I don't think so. I talked with my housemate recently about this issue and she made the point that, to put it simply; the things everyone needs to live and be happy are shelter, food and community. I agree, and I think that as a society we've made our lives so much more complicated, and advertising agencies and companies are constantly bombarding us - trying to sell us their products, taking advantage of us and the current state of the world, telling us our lives will be better if we buy this or have that.

Technology has become so consuming that people cannot get up in the morning without looking at twitter before breakfast (myself included on occasions) and go to the theatre without talking through it like they are on an episode of gogglebox (I’m not even going to start discussing gogglebox!). Comparing children (UK) in the1920's who wanted things like skipping ropes, sweets and a ball for their birthday, the majority of children nowadays now are after the latest talking doll, ipad or xbox, with parents thinking they have to spend hundreds of pounds on plastic gifts for their kids. It's simply not true. We do not need all this stuff to make us happy. 

I don't want to sound like a hypocrite because there is some technology I absolutely love, and makes my live easier in some respects... my laptop provides me with an additional source of income as a freelance designer, taking photos on my DSLR brings me a lot of joy, and I like being able to answer emails on the move and communicate easily with people all around the world, but sometimes I wish things would just slow down and go back to the way things were. The other day my laptop charger stopped working, and my battery soon went flat. I was then stuck and unable to carry on working. In that small, fleeting moment I felt freedom. Freedom away from technology and I remember thinking 'I can do something else now, and not feel guilty I'm not doing work'. Life shouldn't be as busy or as consuming as it is. I'd love to have the freedom to read, to write, and to walk more, be outside, converse with people and get closer to nature. There are so many things that we consume, that we think we want but we don't actually need... and we waste resources and energy on making them. The Earth could be such a better place if we could cut out all the 'crap'. 

My sister Nina has said to me that she does struggle running a business which is largely based on people in the UK buying things as gifts or for the home or jewellery etc, in a world where so many people can’t buy food. However, Fair Grounds is providing a valuable source of income for so many people and communities around the world who are really struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families. It's an internal conflict for Nina and as long as we live in a capitalist society where people keep buying stuff (often because they are told by unethical profiteering companies they need to in order to live happy lives), producers (fair trade or not) all over the world will keep making stuff. It’s a vicious circle and there’s no easy answer, but I believe as individuals we can do something about it, and buying Fair Trade is one thing we can do, and most definitely a step in the right direction.

It's hard though to think, how can I possibly make a difference? To really have any chance of saving the world we need EVERYONE to do their bit, and we need Governments, leaders and companies to enforce and lead the way. So, one thing we can do is put pressure on these organisations (good timing with the general election!) and look at our own lifestyles and see what we can do every day to help ourselves, others and the Earth breathe.

I, personally, would like to do more to lessen my negative impact on the world, but I won't lie, it's not going to be easy. These are some of the things we could all try and do...


1. If you don't 'need' it, don't buy it

2. Try not to waste food, buy what you need and freeze any leftovers or eat it the next day! Grow it yourself if you can or join a local community gardening project

3. Turn the tap off

4. Walk or use public transport, or car share

5. Spend intentional time with your family and friends away from technology

6. Engage in face to face conversations with people you know and people you don’t

7. Do some volunteering

8. Keep things till they break, and then try and fix them before recycling them

9. Buy fair trade products when you can to ensure you are supporting those who need it

10. Instead of buying someone a present (potentially something they don't need), buy them an 'experience' 

11. Support local businesses instead of large corporations and supermarkets

12. De-clutter and get rid of stuff - give to charity, recycle or sell on gumtree (its free to advertise)

 

If you're on Twitter or Facebook, maybe you'd like to send us your thoughts on EarthDay, what you do to reduce your impact on the earth or you could tweet us a photo of your favourite natural world spot!

I'd like to share with you a collection of my own photos of just how incredible and beautiful this earth is and why we must save is for future generations....

 

SUPPORTING STREET CHILDREN AROUND THE WORLD

By Hannah Carter-Brown
on April 12, 2015

Today is International Day for Street Children - an important issue which needs to be addressed worldwide. There are millions of street children, not just in developing countries but amongst our own society too, who are put at great risk on a daily basis. 

Image from https://twitter.com/rednoseday

Part of this years Comic Relief, Dermot O'Leary spent 24 hours with three street children in Kenya, talking to them and finding out out how they survive each day. During the day they collect plastic bottles from waste dumps to sell, and at night they sleep on the streets. Dermot slept rough with them on the pavement with only cardboard sheets to lie on and bags to lie in. Sleeping here makes the children vulnerable to all sorts of dangers and even whilst Dermot was there, a car crashed just feet away from where they were sleeping, which brings home the real dangers that affect these children. You can watch a video here.  

So International Day for Street Children is about raising awareness about the issues that street children face and to support those who are trying to tackle this issue. The CSC (Consortium for Street Children) is currently seeking support to turn International Day for Street Children into a UN (United Nations) Day which would add vital pressure on governments around the world to recognise the issues and support street children. You can sign a petition to help them with this here

At Fair Grounds, this is something we feel passionate about. One of our first experiences with supporting street children was back in 1998/9 in Whitby, when me, Nina and some of our friends took part in The Big Take 'Learn to Live' Campaign. The campaign was run by the Oasis Trust and Tearfund with the aim to raise awareness about street children and there was a competition for young people to make a video to raise awareness and money. Our fundraising activities included a 24hr sponsored music marathon, school assemblies and a silent auction. We also made our video which was shortlisted in the top 3 for a National Big Take Video Award and we all went down to London's Planet Hollywood to mingle with some celebrities and find out if we'd won. We didn't, but that didn't matter we had a great time anyway and were really proud that our video had been selected this far. 

  

(I'm only slightly embarrassed now by my brightly coloured jacket! It was the 90s after all!)

Now, in 2015, Fair Grounds is continuing to support the work of charities who work with street children. We buy a variety of newspaper bags from The India Shop, which we give out to customers at events and festivals to put all their purchases in. The bags are made from recycled Indian newspaper by an NGO whose main objective is to provide education and shelter to street children.

The organisation was started in 2004 by street children who wanted to give something back in return for the opportunities which had allowed them to escape desperate circumstances. These elder children, now married with children of their own, generate an income by making newspaper bags and jute items. This allows them to take care of thirteen street children that they have saved from the streets surrounding Delhi train station. Support for this wonderful project means that these children can enjoy going to school and playing, rather than pulling rickshaws, shoe polishing, rag picking and worse.

Many of our customers comment on the quality and uniqueness of the bags and I'm always pleased to inform them that they are also supporting street children projects.  

Image from www.thefairtradestore.co.uk

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