A Message of Hope for the last Fair Trade Visit of the Year

Dear colleagues, today I’m back from my latest 2008 trip. I went to Honduras to visit one of our customers, as well as a good prospect and a first contact with a new potential customer… and of course a half day meeting with Alba Ochoa, the Progresso coffee fund representative (a fund by Rabobank, Doen and GDF of The Netherlands) in Honduras for the whole region. I had to dash over 1000 Km spreading the Shared Interest mission in Honduras. In Central America the rainy season has finally stopped and here they are now in full harvest season of coffee, sugar cane, growing melons and others. The region is being affected by the financial crisis with a restriction of the credit for production and a loss of jobs directly linked with exportations to the United States and Europe. Beside the economic crisis, this season is a happy season of Christmas celebration among the families. The people in their homes pray every day to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they share a cup of coffee and tamales, a traditional corn based dish in all Latin America, with friends and family. Even if some pigs had to die for the traditional sacrifice…people here celebrate the end of 2008 welcoming the coming New Year with parties and celebrations.

Sometimes my visits for Shared Interest really bring a breath of hope in some producers’ organizations, even if it is just a visit. Sometimes we see successful solidarity production models and organizations and sometimes we have to face some organizations falling in a vicious circle of dependence and loss of trust of their stakeholders. That’s how it is.

At the end of this year, I have to say I had stopped to look back and I see how much we had walked together, creating opportunities for Producer organizations, suffering under disadvantaged circumstances in Latin America. Maybe is quite selfish from my part but I´m learning every day in my position in Shared Interest. So, one of the things I have learned is to look at the future with hope and optimism, so, I would like to send you a message of hope: let’s face 2009 with the right attitude and hard work.

That will be my last message of the year. I need to take some rest and breath to keep standing on my feet doing what I like to do.

Best wishes for this holiday’s season and happy New Year.

- Hugo Villela

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Sally Getting Some Local Press

Shared Interest’s Supporter Relations Officer, Sally Reith, is getting some great local press for her hard work. Sally joined the Shared Interest team in November and has already made great strides in getting the word out about the impact that Shared Interest is having in the developing world with its fair trade lending scheme.

You can read the article from the Leighton Buzzard Observer & Citizen here.

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PRIZE FOR THE MOST IMPROVED EXPORTER, COSTA RICA 2008 – PROAGROIN

Jorge Sanchez, General Manager, gave thanks to his colleagues and the Management Team at Proagroin, to their members (Asoproagroin), their customers, friends, suppliers and collaborators for all their support.

“The support you have given us and the trust you have placed in us have enabled Proagroin to continue working towards the goals set out in its long-term project.  This has but one objective: a better quality of life for small and medium producers in the north of Costa Rica.  Last Thursday (sent on 8 December) we were told that we had been awarded a most prestigious national prize, that of Costa Rica’s Most Improved Exporter for 2008.  This award is given each year by the Costa Rican Export Department and we are happy to accept it on behalf of more than 500 producers who have willingly collaborated with Proagroin to produce world-class, fairly-traded goods.

Thank you to all those who work with Proagroin for their efforts during the last few years.”

Note: Proagroin, a long time Shared Interest customer based in Costa Rica, is a major supplier of fair trade pineapples to large UK supermarket chains including Tesco and Waitrose.

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Kilimanjaro: The New Angel of the South?

Well after the hell that was circuit training I very much enjoyed the variation on my training regime last night, which involved a 10 mile walk to the Angel of the North and back.

So today I am feeling refreshed rather than achy and ready for a productive day at work followed by a session at the gym tonight.

At the moment, anything about Kilimanjaro immediately catches my attention, so I was intrigued by an article in Fairtrade Foundation’s Fair Comment e-zine today. It made me think about all the huge personal achievements that have been realised on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and how some stories are not even connected to climbing.

This particular piece was a truly moving story about a week-long celebration of the oldest Cooperative in all of Africa. KNCU (Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union) was officially incorporated in 1933, and to celebrate 75 years of empowerment, a host of organisations and individuals held a series of events to mark the occasion.

As I read further I discovered that members of KNCU voluntarily contribute to an education fund that is used to build and operate schools for farmers’ children for whom they also provide scholarships.

Mathew Matoli, Member, KNCU Member is quoted as saying on the Coffee Club Network: “Without our cooperative and selling to the fair trade market, our lives would have been very terrible. Our cooperative and the fair trade buyers give us hope and courage, for we are able to earn a higher wage and better provide for our families.”

In climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Neil and I will be raising thousands of pounds to help fair trade producers in Swaziland benefit in the same way: to work their way out of poverty. It seems that the mountain has become a keystone in the fair trade movement, overlooking the farmers and craft makers clustered amongst the foothills and helping to promote and raise money for their cause.

Could this be the new Angel of the South?

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Blood, Sweat and Tears (Well definitely the second two!)

Well I have certainly upped the stakes – every muscle in my body aches after a double gym and circuit training session last night.

I thought after being a little lax at the weekend I should try a little harder with my fitness regime and what better way than to join a circuit training class and be shouted at for an hour?

I got to the gym a little early and instead of waiting around I thought I should use my time effectively so decided to jump on the cross trainer. Big mistake….

On the bright side, I was all warmed up and ready to go.

I headed up to the class (which is up four flights of stairs!) and my face dropped as I entered the room. Not only was it packed, but it was full of big butch men with a few super-fit ladies dotted around.

I had a feeling I was in for a shock!

Yes, and as we started out with jogging around the room, it was at that point I was seriously regretting the cross trainer! People were flying past me and clearly seeing it as a matter of life or death!

We then got into groups (I was with a marine, and two other large men who liked to check themselves out in the mirror) and the battle commenced!

Lifting a medicine ball for two minutes, press ups for two minutes, jumping over poles, bench presses, sit ups, weights: the list was endless.

After going round the room once I felt quite proud of myself and was about to go for a little break when a voice hollered at me for daring to stop.

You had to be kidding me – no break? I looked in horror at the marine in my group and asked home many times we went round. ‘Twice?’ I said with hope in my eyes.

He answered without stopping that it was double that amount and that’s when the tears almost kicked in. I now know the true meaning of torture.

I was tempted to stick out my foot and trip him over. Then the title of the blog would have well and truly matched the tale!

But I managed to refrain, and after spurring myself on (no one else was going to!) I eventually did finish the class and have to say that on reflection I actually enjoyed it (although I am paying the price today!)

So tonight we are taking it easy and only heading out for a 10 mile walk along the quayside, and then it’s back to the gym tomorrow. Gulp.

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Coffee farmers celebrate anniversary

On 29 November, the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania will come alive in celebration of the oldest co-operative in all of Africa. KNCU (Kilimanjaro Native Co-operative Union) was officially incorporated in 1933, and to celebrate 75 years of smallholder empowerment, many of the 65,000 farmers who belong to the co-operative will descend on Moshi for the festivities.

The day will be a culmination of a series of events among primary societies around the mountain in the days leading up to the big party. Cafédirect, key partners with KNCU since 1994, will be joining hundreds of local students – whose education is supported through Fairtrade premiums – to mark the occasion.

To see footage of the event, send messages to KNCU, or learn more, please visit www.cafedirect.co.uk

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Beyond the Ethical Shop Shelves

On the 4th of December the British Library Conference Centre was full of ethically minded people keen to debate and discuss what lies ahead for ethical shoppers. The day was chaired by Sheila Dillon of Radio 4’s ‘The Food Programme’ and included speakers from the Co-operative Group, the Soil Association, SUSTAIN and Women Working Worldwide. The hot topics of the day included issues of sustainability of our food supplies, food security and the future of fair trade.

Tomy Matthews of the Fair Trade Alliance in Kerala, and recently appointed to the board of the Fairtrade Foundation, was an immediate hit with the audience. He spoke of the need to refresh the focus of fair trade. He reminded everyone that fair trade was about trade justice not just a label on a coffee jar. Looking at the success of the fair trade movement he referred to its campaign roots and said he believed fair trade needed to return to these roots to ensure continued support and growth. Relying on the fair trade logo is not enough to see ensure fair trade becomes a way of life for everyone.

I met a familiar face in the form of Matt Anderson, previously from the Fairtrade London Campaign but now focusing on his personal endeavours in the world of publishing his PhD which looked at issues of fairtrade. I also met a member of the Strathaven Fairtrade Steering Group who was very enthusiastic about Shared Interest and left armed with leaflets, knowledge and contact details to help her spread the word to her group and local area.

The day resounding message to summarise the event actually came at the end of the first set of speeches. Bill Vorley of the International Institute for Environment and Development suggested ‘We must stop doing things FOR Africa and do things WITH Africa’. We cannot expect fair trade to work if it is solely a response to consumer demands. It must be about those we set out to work with, the producers themselves. Behind ethical shopping there must be ethical production.

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The Buzz of The Funding Network

Last week, I made my way to a very festive feeling London, I was attending The Funding Networks’ Festive Party and Funding Event. The Funding Network (TFN) is a network of people who come together into the funding marketplace to support charities. It is similar to an auction house where people bid cash which they donate to a number of charities who pitch on the night.

I went along to learn more about how TFN functions and how Shared Interest Foundation may be able to pitch for some funding. I emerged from the lift and was faced by some amazing acrobatics being performed by a group, Hard Rock Circus, who had been successful in gaining funding previously in the year from TFN. In the ‘auction room’ we were told about the benefits of TFN, to support charities and encourage people to give to causes they believe in, all in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. As the charities pitched for their funding I realised this was a fantastic opportunity to tell people what we do and to generate support for the Foundation.

Following the pitching session cam the most exciting bit, the bidding! Our pledging host swept the room with the microphone as people shouted out their names and amounts of cash. Calls of ‘£400’, ‘£200’ and ‘£600’ were met with rounds of applause as the figures totalled up. Calls of ‘£1,000’ and even some of ‘£5,000’ were met with huge cheers. Rapidly the figures crept into the tens of thousands and a total of just over £55,000 was made on the night.

This truly was an inspiring evening. If any of you are members of TFN please get in touch, we would love the opportunity to pitch for the Foundation.

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Steering Shared Interest to local success

Having settled into my new job and new home I came across the perfect opportunity to combine and develop both of these things. Leighton Buzzard is a fair trade town and has its very own, extremely active and well run, fair trade steering group. I was invited along to their most recent meeting at the end of November where I learnt all about their activities and plans. Some of the members had heard of Shared Interest and they were all keen to hear more about what we do and how we work. I was encouraged by the suggestions the group made and ideas for how I could get involved in local activities and events to promote Shared Interest.

One such suggestion came from Angela Feaviour who proposed doing a press release for the local newspapers. The article covers Shared Interest and the Steering Group and will hopefully be in print this week. I am hoping this will be a great opportunity to raise awareness of Shared Interest locally, encourage support for the Steering Group and generate more opportunities for me to speak about Shared Interest.

Following on the local thread I also paid a visit to Leighton Buzzard’s local ethical, organic and fair trade shop. Greenways, was set up around 18 months ago and is seeing a steady increase in popularity as people come to realise ethical, organic and green aren’t just for hippies. This shop stocks a great variety of products. Andrea and Ian aim to offer a fair trade, ethical alternative to all things found in the household. There is certainly room for collaboration here and I’ll be meeting Andrea in the New Year to discuss ideas.

I feel pleased to be able to combine my work and home life to mutual benefit. I can explore opportunities for Shared Interest while making new friends along the way.

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Festivities and Fitness: combining the impossible!

Well it has to be said that the start of the festive period is not the best time to throw yourself into a fitness regime – but thanks to my fundraising efforts for Shared Interest Foundation it has to be done, so I have settled for combining the two!

I started with a Saturday Christmas shopping expedition, which by lunchtime left me thinking it must be loads harder than climbing Kilimanjaro!

I power walked up Northumberland Street to Marks & Spencer and then braced myself for the onslaught of Christmas shopping in December, dodging determined ladies trying to find their grandchildren bargains and concentrating on my balance as people tried to push in front of me as I stood in queue after queue.

However, thanks to the pre-Christmas sales, I picked up a North Face jacket for almost half price so it made the whole experience a little more bearable!

At the end of the day I was completed exhausted so treated myself to a little mulled wine and a night in watching X-Factor (I’m not sure they will have the same type of relaxation technique half way up a mountain!)

On Sunday I managed to persuade my boyfriend to come on a long costal walk with me. Great result….only trouble was that we were going straight on to friends for festive drinks and nibbles that evening and had the issue of how we’d carry the ‘refreshments’ we’d bought for the occasion.

So off we set with bottle of port and champagne. I told myself this was great practice for carrying the three litres of water I will need to take with me at the start of each day on the climb. (Shame it can’t be port and champagne but I’m sure that’s not the best option for rehydration!)

Once again I was rewarded with drinks and nibbles after a pleasant walk; although I really think I need to up the stakes in the next few weeks – you’ll probably be able to hear the screams!

But anyway, in the meantime, there you have it: I have achieved the impossible and proudly managed to combine Kilimanjaro training with a bit of festive fun.

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