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.