September 08, 2009

NYSUT/Labor-Religion explore Fair Trade in other countries

Author: Linda Vila Passione
Source: NYSUT Newswire

I am hot, sweaty and tired. I step into the smooth, cool tiled tub, turn on the water and weep. Such a simple miracle — water to wash away the day's heat and grime. Water to soothe the day's problems away. But I have met many people over the last few days who do not have this simple luxury…and so I weep for them.

I have just arrived from Nicaragua, one of 10 who traveled as NYSUT delegates with the Labor-Religion Coalition on a delegation dedicated to exploring Fair Trade in other worlds, of sharing union struggles with teachers and farmers, of building solidarity one smile at a time.

We are in Managua for about a week and have visited: a maternity ward with just one birthing table, a village struggling to begin an eco-tourist venue, a one-room school house where the teacher is overwhelmed with 30 children from kindergarten to sixth grade.

We are unionists and teachers bringing school supplies, donations, clothing, medicine and we are being taught patience, hope, resilience and humility by people who have had a lifetime of injustice. 

A veteran of the Border Witness Delegation to Mexico, I have already seen the destruction the North American Free Trade Agreement has had upon a country, a people and a culture. No living wage, outrageous working conditions, child labor and a loss of worker dignity. And so I have visited the Dominican Republic last year and now, Nicaragua, to witness and compare Fair Trade.

Unlike the Mexican border towns where there is despair in every child's eyes, here hope glows like an ember. Here, in Nicaragua, as it was in the DR, there is faith and "esperanza."

Fair trade coffee and handicrafts, among other venues, bring the families a living wage, a chance for children to be in school and not in the fields and restores a human dignity. 

Here and not in Mexico, despite the constant American exploitation in both, there is a pride and resurgence of Nicaraguan culture and art. It is evident in the surroundings and in conversation. Fair trade brings a sense of sustainability and independence. No hand outs; this is a hand up.

And though the times are difficult, there is a sense of future … the road doesn't end but forks and branches out. And my fellow travelers and I return, enriched, humbled, thankful and determined to spread the word … Fair Trade … a chance at a future.

Linda Vila Passione is a member of the United Federation of Teachers. For more information on Fair Trade Delegations or Border Witness Delegations, contact Maureen Casey at

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