Choosing to support Fair Trade is about choosing products that change lives.

We are in the middle of Fair Trade fortnight – an annual 2 week event to promote the importance and work of fair trade organisations around the world. Fair Trade is when farmers and producers of products (food, homeware, jewellery etc) get a fair wage for their craft/produce. This enables them to support themselves with dignity, earning enough to buy food, provide shelter, clothes and medicine for their families and give children an education. These are often things we take for granted and don’t give much thought to, but for those in developing countries these basic human rights mean the world to them and can literally change their lives.

Fair Trade is bigger that it used to be, more people are aware of the logo now and supermarkets are stocking a wider variety of products but there is still a long way to go before we become a sustainable fair trade nation and fair trade becomes the norm. It will take a lot of hard work, but actually all it takes is for individuals to start choosing to support fair trade in their daily lives that will make it happen.

That is exactly the ethos behind the fair trade shop Fair Grounds, and one of our shop volunteers has seen the impact of the importance of this work first hand. Here is Helen’s story…

Eleven years ago my son Matthew Gregory, born and brought up in Sheffield and a former pupil of Notre Dame school, and his wife Suzanne decided to give up their jobs in favour of voluntary teaching jobs in Lebanon with the intention of staying there a year. However they decided to extend their stay in Beirut and a year later moved to an orphanage and school called Dar el Awlad in the Mansourieh district of the city where they taught boys from very poor backgrounds, as well as those who had come to Lebanon as refugees. These children were provided with food and a safe place to stay, and an education, and then funded to move on to secondary education and then either university or vocational training.

Matthew eventually became head teacher and field director of the whole project and the numbers of children grew steadily. However the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable children were always at the forefront of his mind and when he heard about a group of people living in shacks at the mouth of a river near to the UN Peace Line and close to the border with Israel his interest was piqued. He visited the site and found that the people there had no sanitation, no running water, and the shacks were virtually on the beach and therefore very vulnerable. The area was virtually a rubbish tip with debris being deposited every tide. The people, who turned out to be Gypsy/ Bedouin, had some electricity thanks to cables and some improvisation but it was very intermittent and it was clear that they needed help. 

However, despite their circumstances, they are a proud people and their dignity needed to be respected, and so a long process of visiting these people, talking with them, accepting their hospitality (drinks of tea!) and listening to what they thought they needed was embarked on.

By this time Matthew was part of a group of 3 NGOs ( non -governmental organisations) interested in helping these people and it was decided that there would be three aspects to the project - now named New Horizon

  1. with the children receiving education
  2. a clinic catering for medical and dental health being set up
  3. and the women being given vocational training to enable them to develop skills to support themselves and their families.

The school started, with the first subject being basic hygiene principles - brushing teeth, and learning to use a toilet! Hair was brushed and cleared of head lice, and glass removed from the children's feet as they had not had shoes. This last job took two days. Now these 20 -25 children are happy and settled and making progress. Meanwhile the women have been encouraged to develop long forgotten skills in jewellery making and with help and support from a lady called Giovani, they are making beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and earrings using beads made of glass, clay, and natural materials. JNOUBI jewellery - meaning "My South" in Arabic was born! Initially exported to the USA and South Africa, this jewellery is now being sold at Fair Grounds, the Fair Trade Shop in Broomhill, much to the delight of Matthew and his family.

"It is so exciting to see lives changed for the better, and it's thrilling that Sheffield, a Fair Trade city and my old home town, is becoming part of that process".