Ecuador Earthquake 16/04/16 (Fashion Revolution) by Laura Cave (Just Trade UK Ltd)

Laura is currently on her annual visit to our producer groups in Ecuador and Peru.  On 16th April a devastating earthquake hit Ecuador as she was travelling between groups.  Below is her story:

Saturday 16th April

After a productive two days working with the artisans in Sosote, in the province of Manabi, Vilma (our colleague and co-coordinator in Ecuador) and I finished the workshop with a discussion about Fashion Revolution. We explained about the Rana Plaza disaster and the terrible conditions that the people were forced to work in. Ronald, Darwin and Fernando all agreed to have their photo taken with the ‘I made your jewellery’ sign, keen to spread the word of the importance of fair pay and good working conditions.


We took the photos (L to R: Fernando, Ronald and Darwin), packed up the new samples and made our way to catch a bus into Portoviejo – the plan was to get an overnight bus from there to Esmeraldas in the North. The artisans waited with us to ensure we got on the right bus. It was starting to get dark, so Fernando suggested borrowing a car to give us a lift, we gratefully accepted and Carlos came along for the ride.

It was whilst in the office buying the bus tickets that the earthquake started – I have experienced several tremors before whilst working in Peru and been taught to get outside as quickly as possible. I was standing by the door so ran out into the middle of the street, however it was quickly clear that this was more than just a tremor… Empty parked cars were rolling up and down the street with their alarms going off in a ghostly manner. I was struggling to stand up, it was like being on a boat in a storm. I turned around and realised that the others were clinging to the post of the porch of the building and shouting for me to join them… I managed to get back to them and we clung to the pillar. It was terrifying – the three story building next door collapsed completely, showering the road where I had been standing seconds before with rubble. The air was thick with dust, people were screaming, children crying out, there were flashes as the power lines came down and the city was plunged into darkness and chaos. After what seemed like ages the earthquake subsided, although it was hard to tell when it was over as we were all shaking so much.

It was quickly decided that we weren’t going to be getting a bus that night and it would be better to return to Sosote. Fernando and Carlos were worried about their families and desperate to get back home. We jumped in the car and attempted to leave the city but every corner we turned, we were met with massive piles of rumble and power lines draped across the road. So many buildings were completely destroyed, it seemed to be an indiscriminate mix of old and new building; posh hotels and banks just as likely to have collapsed as ramshackle constructions. It looked as though it had been bombed. We kept trying to phone the families back in Sosote but all communication was cut off. We finally got back to Sosote and thankfully everyone there was safe.

I think the most scary thing during the quake itself was there was nothing we could do – adrenaline kicks in and with it the fight or flight instinct… Neither of which are any good – the only thing we could do was try to remain standing and wait until it was over, praying that the building we were sheltering in didn’t collapse.


Tuesday 19th April

Sosote is still without electricity and running water and there is no news as to when they can expect to be reconnected. Drinking water and food supplies are running low and so far no help has reached them. Fortunately no one in the small town was seriously hurt, but out of the five artisans we work with, three have lost their homes.

Vilma and I managed to get back to Quito on Monday night. We are in regular contact with the artisans and working out the best way we can help. They are desperate to start work again, and have asked for an electricity generator. We are working out how to send one, together with food parcels and provisions.


Fair Trade is about long term relationships. We have been working with the artisans in Sosote for over five years now; we have developed a great commercially successful collection and several bespoke ranges. We are completely committed to helping them get back on their feet and continuing our relationship based on fair trading principles. The point of fair trade is that it is trade not aid… However due to the exceptional and unprecedented scale of the current situation, we have set up a Just Giving page. Immediate needs are to pay for an electricity generator, food, water and clothing for those who lost everything. We are looking to raise £1000.

Medium term we are looking to raise money to help with the costs of rebuilding the homes that were destroyed. At the moment we don’t have figure for this but will keep you updated.

Longer term the best way you can support them is to continue to buy their wonderful products. Which brings us back to Fashion Revolution… Less than two hours after these photos of Ronald, Fernando and Darwin were taken, their lives had been turned upside down. Both Fernando and Darwin lost their homes. They are determined to carry on working and we are more determined than ever to support them in whatever way we can.

Who made your clothes, your jewellery, everything you consume… It matters, ask the question. The way you shop – it counts.

Laura Cave Founder Just Trade (UK) Ltd.

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BAFTS’ Annual Conference Timetable 15/16 May 2016 Bristol (revised 5th May)

This is the timetable for our Annual Conference which is being held on Sunday 15th and Monday 16th May at the Create Centre Bristol, although it may be subject to change. You can see from their website that they have won a lot of awards for Green Tourism, and also a Gold Fairtrade Business Award in 2015. The Cafe Create won the Fairtrade Restaurant for Bristol last year too. The Centre is opening especially for us on the Sunday, throughout the day, whilst evening food and entertainment will be at another location quite close-by. The Cafe is preparing a menu for us on the Sunday and Monday lunchtimes. As it is used by other persons and tenants on the Monday, we will be served in the Gallery area.

The Board has booked into the Holiday Inn Express BRISTOL CITY CENTRE, South End, Temple Gate House, Bristol BS1 6PL. As the Create Centre is on Spike Island, using the above hotel will necessitate some walking, taking a bus or most likely the passenger ferry. It is about two miles away. There are Travelodges and Premier Inns but please check distance away first; there is a big steep hill to consider at Clifton I am told, too. Hotels are not cheap in Bristol so there is a balance between proximity and cost. There should be no-one working at the Create Centre on the Sunday other than staff, so their car park should easily accommodate member cars, especially for suppliers who are exhibiting and bringing stock with them. Please see travel-to-create-oct13 – apparently access roads are good and there is a loading bay in front of the building.

Member booking forms are here 2016 BAFTS Conf Member Booking Form and Non-Member Booking forms are next 2016 Non-memberConfBookingForm

2016 Annual Conference and AGM – Programme of Events

Sunday 15th and Monday 16th May 2016 Create Centre Smeaton Road Spike Island Bristol BS1 6XN

Sunday 15th May 2016

FROM 9.00am    Arrivals of Board & importers to set up stands.

DISPLAYS             1.  IMPORTER TRADE STANDS Danusha; Global Seesaw; JTS (Just Trading Scotland); Red   Tribe; Weaving Hope; Carishea; Greater Goods; Kerala Crafts; Silkthreads; Tumi Crafts; Traidcraft; Bala Sports

  1. BAFTS INFO – our leaflets, our website, our resources, our achievements,
  2. POS – Our member Suppliers and Shops leaflets, adverts, photos of shop fronts etc.


  1. World Map with pins to show where our suppliers import from.

10.30 – 11.20 arrival, coffee, tea & supplier stall browsing

11.20 – 11.30 Welcome address by Joanna Pollard, Chair of BAFTS. Tribute to Elizabeth Whitwick.

11.30 – 12.00 Shared Interest talk by Andrew Ridley and Sally Reith “Following the Fair Trade Pound””

12.00 – 12.30 Sara Parker Fair Connections Workshop on Fairis the Nepali Frog, puppets & their story

12.30 – 1.00 BAFTS’ supplier stories – Global Seesaw, Weaving Hope, JTS, Danusha

1.00 – 2.00 Lunch

2.00 – 2.30 Short speaker slots: Nawal (Hebron Women’s Cooperative), Global Seesaw producer, Judith Condor-Vital

2.30 – 3.00 Aled Pickard (Fair Dos) talks on his research “Every time a person in Wales buys fair trade…”

Funded by Hub Africa Cwyru and Welsh Government grant

3.00 – 3.30 Andy Ashcroft “Koolskools: Clothing and Educating the Fairtrade Consumers of the Future”

3.30 – 4.00 tea & coffee break

(4.00 – 4.45 Paul Wolfenden (THE FAIR TRADE STORE) – workshop on Social Media

(4.00 – 4.45 Ramona Hirschi (Little Trove) – workshop on “Community Interest Companies – a structure for fair trade businesses and how to become one”

4.45 – 5.30 informal time for networking & browsing stalls.

5.30pm Leave to get to Southbank Club – walk, car share or by taxi

6.00 – 7.00 Evening finger buffet at Southbank Club Dean Lane Bristol BS3 1DB

7.00 – 9.00 African dance workshop with Louis Roger Eboa


Monday 16th May 2016

9.00 – 9.50  Supplier stalls open, tea, coffee & informal networking9.50 – 10.00 Welcome and Introduction to the Plan for the Day (Joanna Pollard)10.00 – 10.30 Alistair Leadbetter (Traidcraft) Talk on Compliance10.30 -11.30 EITHER: Stay with Alistair Leadbetter for Q/A session on “Monitoring and Compliance in Fair Trade” OR attend workshop below

10.30 – 11.30 Gaynor Humphrey (Best Years) talks on “Pebble Accreditation” and workshop “Current Trends in Retail: Shop display, POS, Alternatives to Black Friday”

11.30 – 11.50 tea & coffee break

11.50 – 12.30 talk from Greg Valerio (Valerio Jewellery) “Fairtrade Gold – Fairtrade’s Golden Halo”

12.30 – 1.30 lunch

1.30 – 2.30 Jenny Foster (Chair, Bristol Fairtrade City) Talk on ‘Fair Trade, SDGS and Sustainability’

2.30 –  4.00 AGM

4.00 Close

Posted in Fair Trade

Middle Eastern and African Banquet, Durham, fundraising event

Kathryn, our Marketing and Membership Coordinator, had the opportunity to attend a Middle Eastern and African Banquet on 13th February in Durham Town Hall; a major fundraising event for Durham Palestine Educational Trust and Ruth First Educational Trust, who sponsor graduate students from Palestine and Southern Africa respectively to study at Durham University.


Graduate student from Zimbabwe sponsored by Ruth First Educational Trust


Two Gazan post-Graduate students speak of the creativity in Gaza City by young adults who are tired of war and destruction

There was an array of freshly-cooked Middle Eastern and African foods for the banquet, and music from various student groups, not least of all from Ngoma Vuma Uropa which sang traditional African songs accompanied by djembe playing. One of the most interesting parts of the evening was meeting the current students on scholarships – a young lady from Zimbabwe who was studying healthcare, and two students from Gaza -a man and a woman – who showed a slide show about how the younger generation in Gaza is getting creative and trying to lift the gloom of the occupation. There are many very talented young adults in Gaza, they stated, especially in IT, who do not have job opportunities there. Their main contact with the outside world is via the Internet. But rather than give in to gloom about destruction and the eight-year occupation, the students explained that young Gazan adults are tired of war, and have set up a basic cinema in Gaza City – there has not been one for 30 years. They are painting the walls of some of the bleakest refugee camps and caravans in which people are living, whilst waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. And they even held their own online discussions about Climate Change as a way of keeping in touch with the “normal world”. The message was one of hope burgeoning out of a City usually linked with destruction, despair and warfare.


Young boy sits atop a wall painted with an elephant in El-Shati refugee Camp, Gaza City.

The evening also included an auction of goods, restaurant meals, services and outings, and a raffle, all to raise more money for the next scholarship applications. Kathryn was very grateful to have a captive audience too, to whom details of the Durham Fairtrade Fortnight event on Friday 4th March (7-9pm Room ER141) with Zaytoun Palestinian olive grower Mohammed Hamadeh were announced. But the most important thing to take away from the event was the hope and opportunities given to young adults from developing and struggling countries, to study at a place of academic excellence in the North East Of England, and take new skills and learning back to their countries of origin.

Posted in Fair Trade

JTS Scotland: RICE REVOLUTION by RHONA KIERNAN (YRE Scotland) Jan 6th 2016

The following article is kindly reproduced with permission from BAFTS’ supplier member JTS, in connection with their Kilombero Rice Launch a few weeks ago. The article was written by Rhona Kiernan, of Young Reporters for the Environment, Scotland.

“Education is often taken for granted in Britain, and children complain about teachers, homework and exams, but in other countries, education is highly valued. Secondary education is not free in many of these countries, and there are other costs – food, housing, clothing – to be paid for first before education can even be considered.”


MSP Humza Yousaf, Minister for International Development and John Riches, founder of JTS welcome Malawi’s Kilombero rice to Edinburgh. Photo by Rhona Keirnan

Mr Humza Yousaf, Minister for Europe and International Development, was in Margiotta Food & Wine in Edinburgh today to support the first commercial retailer to stock Kilombero rice. Also present were John Riches from Just Trading Scotland (JTS) and Keith Bohannon from the Scotland-Malawi Partnership.

JTS, a not-for-profit company, is working to help Malawian children receive an education by working in close partnership with rice farmers. The income from only 90kg of this rice is enough to pay for one year of secondary education for one child in Malawi. This will make a massive difference to children’s lives. Mr Yousaf said that “People don’t quite understand the scale of the challenges that exist in some of these countries.” He would encourage young people to put their energy into responding to these challenges through voluntary work, creating publicity, and raising funds. Many people today are involved in these important activities, but we can ensure that making a difference is embedded in our daily lives by being conscious of supporting ethically produced food. By making one small change, every single person can help support the Sustainable Development Goals, which 195 countries agreed to in New York on 25th September 2015.


Kilombero rice is grown by smallholder farmers and harvested by traditional methods

Some people struggle to think about foreign aid as a priority, especially during times when UK crises lead the news. Happily, it isn’t necessary to do anything extra in order to support this valuable campaign. Rice is a store cupboard essential in the UK, and all we need to do is change the brand of rice we buy. We don’t need to volunteer for long hours, pay large sums of money, or do anything out of the ordinary: simply buy Kilombero rice. Every time. That’s all. UNICEF estimate that only 13% of Malawian children go to secondary school. The sale of two kilograms of Kilombero rice means over one week of education for one of these Malawian children.

Hopefully, today’s launch at Margiotta Food & Wine is the first step for this rice to be stocked by more retailers and large chains. As JTS chairman John Riches said, “together, we can all start a rice revolution right here in Scotland.”


Kilombero rice arrives at Margiotta’s in Edinburgh. Photo by Rhona Keirnan

Posted in Fair Trade

Scottish Fair Trade Awards Ceremony 2015 and producers from Eswatini Kitchen

*This article is kindly reproduced (in amended, shortened format) from the Scottish Fair Trade Nation website, to focus more heavily on the producer visit and one category, namely Outstanding Achievement of the Year. For full details of all the category winners, please refer to the entire article on their website. Thank you.

Vusi talking about Eswatini Kitchen

Vusi talking about Eswatini Kitchen. Image courtesy and property of Scottish Fair Trade Nation

The 3rd annual Scottish Fair Trade Awards were held at the City of Glasgow College on 24th November. In attendance were Vusi Nkambule and Busie Majola from Eswatini Kitchen in Swaziland to speak about their work and the difference that they see fair trade making every day. Busie is one of the Eswatini Kitchen accountants. She talked about the difference that Eswatini has made to her life, by supporting her to gain further training and skills, and that because Eswatini Kitchen employs disadvantaged women, when people buy their products they are changing their lives and the lives of their children.

Vusi (in the picture, left) is an extension services manager and works closely with the producers that grow the ingredients for the delicious Eswatini Kitchen sauces. He explained about how Eswatini Kitchen helps give street children the chance to go to school, and that when they have the chance to go to school they have a ticket to their future. He also said that they have just started to produce honey as well, and hope to have that for sale in Scotland soon too.

Then it was onto the awards ceremony, which is proud to recognise individuals, communities and organisations who have made a significant impact on Fair Trade and have been an inspiration to those around them. Below are the winners’ details only, with the exception of the Outstanding Achievement Award which is covered in full.

1) Volunteer of the Year 2015 – Morag Rennie

2) Community Award 2015 – St Andrew’s Fairtrade Town Campaign

3) Campaign of the Year 2015 – the partnership between Northlink Ferries, Aberdeen Fairtrade Steering Group and the Orkney Fair Trade Group

4) Innovation Award 2015 – City of Glasgow Year 2 HND Hospitality Management & Professional Cookery students –  Unity Monaghan, Chloe Hart, Dali Daluze, Andrew Tsang and Kevin Carmichael

Busie and Vusi presenting Rachel Farey with her award

Busie and Vusi presenting Rachel Farey with her award. Image courtesy and property of Scottish Fair Trade Nation.

5) Outstanding Achievement Award 2015 – Rachel Farey (from BAFTS’ shop One World Shop)
The judges decided to award this to someone who has worked tirelessly and consistently for Fair Trade. She has campaigned and promoted Fair Trade in her private life, through her involvement in Edinburgh Fair Trade City Group and has also been dedicated to Fair Trade through being a business manager at the One World Shop. Furthermore, she has gone beyond the local level of support, to travel to India and Nepal to meet the producers whose lives have been changed by Fair Trade and made lasting links with their communities. She has truly been dedicated to helping the cause of Fair Trade, and has consistently given her time and energy with great enthusiasm and is an inspiration to many. Simply put, her name is synonymous with Fair Trade in Scotland. Thank you to everyone who sent in nominations; and congratulations to all the winners.

May we at BAFTS also extend warm congratulations to Rachel on her well-earned award. We are proud to have her amongst our ranks!

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British Library Exhibition: “West Africa: Word, Symbol and Song” (until 16 Feb 2016)

If you have the good fortune to travel to London before the 16th February next year, we would exhort you to visit the British Library exhibition on “West Africa: Word, Symbol and Song”. This showcases memorabilia from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today. The standard entry cost is £10 which is well worth the price.


See the images here which give you a flavour of the exhibition and also the products on sale outside. We were delighted to see fairly-traded African items from BAFTS’ members Akoma Skincare and Ian Snow, alongside “Divine” chocolate and other fairly-traded recycled aluminium gifts, soapstone boxes and photograph frames, and cloth bracelets there too! It was impressive to note that many vibrant items on sale acknowledged the role which fair trade plays in continuing to fight current global injustices through trade.

The exhibition offered an amazing opportunity to take part in learning about West Africa’s history, politics, culture and literature, with stories from the region’s 17 nations, depicting how West Africans had built societies, led political movements, and fought injustice. Chinua Achebe‘s novels abounded – an influential Nigerian poet, writer and professor. Displays included carefully preserved manuscripts, recordings, photographs, textiles and literary culture. Take a look at the relevant part of the British Library website above and be inspired!

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Climate Change: COP21, arabica coffee and Palestinian almonds

Readers are probably aware of the impending Climate Talks in Paris. France will host and preside over the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), otherwise known as “Paris 2015” from November 30th to December 11th. COP21 will be a crucial conference, as it needs to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. France will be playing a leading international role to ensure points of view converge and to facilitate the search for consensus by the United Nations, as well as within the European Union, which has a major role in climate negotiations.

Here we highlight the urgent need for that agreement to work towards restricting global warming further, with news of the effects of climate change on two crops grown in different developing countries. Firstly, the BBC wrote recently on the possible extinction of Arabica coffee by the end of this century if alterations to production, due to increasing temperatures, are not heeded soon. The Arabica coffee plant accounts for about 3/4 of global production and, unlike the Robusta plant, is more fragile and tolerates less change in the environment, rainfall and temperature. It may help to move production to higher and cooler ground, but the alarming lack of crop diversity in the Arabica plant is also a problem, which could potentially lead to its extinction by the end of the 21st century. The article explains these factors in much more detail.


Arabica coffee berries

Secondly, recent news which we have from Zaytoun‘s Newsletter states that weather is getting more extreme in Palestine. Manal Ramadan from Zaytoun wrote here:

“This harvest season, we noticed some very strange weather. Hailstones the size of large marbles rained on pickers’ heads, and it was exceptionally wet…..Climate change is not simply an environmental problem, in its capacity to affect the poorest and most vulnerable farmers first, it is an issue of social justice. Israeli restrictions on land access and water use severely limit Palestinian farmers’ ability to mitigate the effect of climate change on their crops. …The Palestinian almond trees are grafted onto the indigenous bitter almond tree that is resistant to drought and can bear fruit under scarce water conditions. This is important because under Israeli authorities control, irrigation water is not permitted. “


Zaytoun’s Heather in the West Bank Olive Groves this October

She points out that price is being affected because yields are low -due to changing weather conditions- and rain-fed crops produce much smaller yields in the first place: “As the price of almonds goes up globally due to low yields caused by drought conditions in California, Palestinian almonds are no exception. Because of their Fairtrade status, however, you can be assured that the farmers continue to make a sustainable living from their crop. The rain-fed variety only produces 20-25% of their irrigated cousins, so the price per kilogram is higher in order to guarantee a fair income for the grower.”

There are lots of things you can do and find out about on the COP21 website to play your part (the activities and resources for English speaking enquirers are below those for French speakers).

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October is THE month for all manner of Anti-Poverty awareness campaigns

There doesn’t seem to be a day in the year that isn’t National “Something-or-other” Day. Somehow a day doesn’t seem long enough to really take action and raise continued awareness of any one particular concern. Weeks or fortnights seem to do the job better, and October is full of campaign weeks, in case you hadn’t noticed!

11-17th October is given over to Anti-Poverty Week, and the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), of which BAFTS is proud to be a member, is joining the international observance of this week with its three-year-themed “Break the Chains of Poverty: be an Agent For Change”. Quoting directly from their website, WFTO states that:

“WFTO believes that Fair Trade is a tangible contribution to eradicating poverty. The injustices in conventional trade stem from the imbalances of power in the international negotiating table and supply chain. Small, disadvantaged producers are discriminated by large, influential players. The discrimination leaves many producers marginalised and unable to work their way out of poverty. WFTO and its members believe that trade should work for people and the environment, and not at their expense. The 10 Principles of Fair Trade (see also our homepage) are the fundamental philosophies established by WFTO members to guide their practices. WFTO prescribes these Principles to organisations as a way of fighting against trade injustices, discrimination, and poverty! “


It is great to eg buy fair trade products from BAFTS’ shops this week to show your support, but will you consider doing so for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Easter, and throughout the year, too? Short annual campaigns highlight a need which is present all year round and provide an ” information booster” which aims to catch the consumers’ busy eye and reminds them to continue what they are hopefully already doing.


As well as Anti-Poverty Week, we have Chocolate Week this week, which lends itself beautifully to the promotion of widely-available scrummy fairtrade chocolate and such savvy ideas as our friends’ The Fig Tree‘s Chocolate-Making classes, and Jenga-style chocolate-balancing competitions in some of our BAFTS’ shops (see the full list here) which are both great eye-catching ways of drawing attention to the varieties, quantities and benefits of fairly-traded chocolate!

Thirdly, this week sees Brighton Fashion Week running from 15-17 October, which narrows the anti-poverty focus down onto another area: that of sustainable fashion. We are delighted at the involvement of BAFTS’ shop FAIR run by Siobhan Wilson. Here is a flavour of the events’ purpose:

“Brighton Fashion Week offers a fresh approach to promote sustainability within the fashion industry. Our aim is to encourage as many excellent quality innovative sustainable fashion brands to showcase at the event as possible and showcase the very best in sustainable fashion. We also work with new designers at the start of their careers to adopt ethical practices in their work.

Not all purchasers of fashion understand the impacts of what they choose to buy. Brighton Fashion Week will tell the story of waste people create from their fast fashion shopping fix contrasting this with sustainable fashion practices and the need for fair wages. We have started to increase consumer awareness around the social and environmental impact of clothing through our events, social media and press coverage over the past two years and wish this to increase further. We now have decided to bring criteria around sustainability in fashion into ALL aspects of the event (the three main catwalk shows) as we feel this is an essential step that the fashion industry needs to take.” The remaining schedule of events is listed here.

The campaigning continues next week, directly after the Fairtrade Supporter Conference in London this Saturday 17th October, with One World Week running from 18-25 October under the header of “Hope in Action”. This week can apply to so many angles of world understanding, to different cultures, faiths and non-faith groups, and is embodied in their statement of intent:

logo2015“One World Week is a development education charity… interested in raising awareness and understanding. Simply put, our aim is to help others understand more about issues that affect us all so that positive action can be taken. Each year, thousands of people take part in One World Week events across the country. The week is always in October, although events can and do happen all year round. These events have been organised by volunteers with one common purpose: to let others know about some of the global issues that affect us all & to recognise we can all be part of the change. We believe that when we come together collectively to learn about injustice and inequality, we are prompted to do something about it ~ great things can happen! In coming together and undertanding each other’s perspective, our own lives can be transformed and enriched.”

This simple and clear aim dovetails well with support for fair trade, and we would encourage our members and supporters to get involved in events where and when they can, with a view to bringing hope to disadvantaged and marginalised producers. Although our own awareness-raising BAFTS’ week has moved to 14-21st May, before and just after Annual Conference at the Create Centre Bristol on 15-16 May 2016, this is something that we, too, as an organisation will be bearing in mind.

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Thoughts on Leila Sansour’s film “Open Bethlehem”

“Open Bethlehem is a nonviolent attempt to save a city that belongs to the world.  It is unconscionable that Bethlehem should be allowed to die slowly from strangulation.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bethlehem Passport Holder.

7368930_origLeila Sansour, Film Maker and Director of “Open Bethlehem”, had a Palestinian father and Russian mother , and spent her very early years in Russia, with her father in exile, but the family went to live there in her early teen years. Her father was a well-known and respected Professor, and committed to standing up to fighting the Palestinian cause. However, the fairy-tale like Bethlehem of which her father talked was met with a much harsher reality when they returned to live there, and Leila tired of restrictions. At 17, she left to study, settled in the USA , and married an Englishman. She is best known for her feature‐length documentary, ‘Jeremy Hardy versus the Israeli Army’ 2003, a tragicomic film shot with celebrated British comedian Jeremy Hardy.  The film received four‐and five‐star reviews in the national press before its release across cinemas in the UK and its tour in the US as part of Amnesty International’s Roaming Film Festival.


Time passes, as Palestine became a distant memory, until her father died prematurely in the late 1990s. She had felt an affiliation with his cause that she had not fully carried out, and resolved to return. In the meantime, increasing Israeli settlements, roads and the separation wall had caused immense, ugly 8-metre high segregation in Bethlehem, intent on keeping Palestinians out. Upon her return, extensions of the wall were being planned, blocking access to the Shrine of Rachel, Biblical matriarch, and also some residents’ shops and homes which happened to be nearby.
Filming was not allowed, people dared not speak out against the orders, but friends’ and inhabitants’ lives were being torn apart as they were forced to leave. In addition, military checkpoints meant that only limited people could enter or leave with permits, if granted, and often found themselves separated from work, family, business by the wall, and unable to leave. Having seen a film about the Berlin Wall, and desperate attempts to get over or under it, only to be shot if you managed, this whole set-up is eerily similar..and worse.7207491_orig

In a bid to move urgently, Leila, family and friends set up the “Open Bethlehem” project to start producing the film, get tourists to visit Bethlehem – visitors were whisked in and out on Israeli buses, usually going to the Church of the Nativity, often without knowing they had set foot in Palestine – and she wanted visitors to stay and breathe life back into Bethlehem, spend time in hotels and get to know a bit of Palestine. She managed to obtain some outside funding, which was only made available if her aims were non-political. As the separation wall-building moved on so fast, she decided to create the “Bethlehem passport” which supporters could buy to show support and solidarity. British MPS and Church dignitaries got involved, some visited Bethlehem, and the international press fed off the stories. Leila also returned to the USA where she had some great successes too. She had the backing of the Mayor and President of Bethlehem throughout.3535924_orig

But funding was running out, and all this had been at immense cost personally and financially -her British husband was rarely able to visit and public interest seemed to have waned. When her cousin, who at one point begged her to stay and help set up the campaign, was forced to make a decision to leave for the sake of her kids’ schooling, Leila was left on her own. The film ends with scenes of her still in Bethlehem, in her family home set upon a hill, as it snows, and she feels is is her father telling her to stay and continue fighting. Continued sales of the Bethlehem Passports, costs of film showings, and donations to are still three of the main ways to support the cause.

A longer article with much more detailed information on the film’s content is also here: OPen Bethlehem Article


UK Church Leaders receiving their Bethlehem passports. Leila in the middle, in their 2006 visit to Bethlehem

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Update from Nepal – Via Bazaar (currently visiting producers there)

Whilst we have many of our own supplier members who work with artisans in Nepal, I have been struck recently by the need and struggle going on away from the public glare, through the regular social media posts of Bazaar. They are currently visiting their producers and conveying a story which we need to continue telling. With their permission I am reproducing snippets in the form of an article. This will be updated if members want to send me their updates too.

21st September 2015  “Katmandu today. It is harrowing to hear the stories of those who survived the earthquake, those whose houses stayed intact as they held onto each other or those who “just held onto the pillar wishing for it to stop”. It is so sad to hear of the staircases that fell down as people tried to escape — Of the “five people who died infront of my eyes as their house fell down”, of “my friend, who left his family all at home to go to school, turned back as the shaking started, just to see his whole home collapse”. None of his family survived. The people are talking and the people here have had a harrowing, terrifying experience that went on for days, the effects of which continue to influence their everyday. The little children seem older.


Delapidated buildings in Kathmandu

There are no tourists, hardly any business people. Normally this part of Katmandu is full of fit trekking types all off to trek the Himalayas — They are driven and together — Lots of Canadians — Lots of Norwegians with heavy calf muscles. It is a pronouncedly different tourist genre than the one you find in India. Normally the groovy bars and restaurants are buzzing at night and the shops and streets are busy. Now it is very very quiet. There is divided opinion about the new Constituency although all is peaceful and calm here. Earthquakes and political things are very bad for tourism. Nepal needs tourism.”

22nd September 2015 “Today in Bhaktapur I was with families who knit our winter woollies — Families who have survived the earthquake but whose lives have been inextricably changed by it. I was donating money to them, the money donated by many of our supporters. It was unbelievable to see them, to hear their stories, all of which can not possibly be relayed in one post. There is great need, but people are getting on somehow..there is hope…there is rebuilding. What an amazingly stoic and robust people these Nepalese are… What a privilege it is to be among them.”


Devastation in Bhaktapur. The greatest needs are for tourism and homes to be rebuilt.

23rd September 2015 “I sat with 14 ladies, knitters from Bhaktapur. They knitted the hats we sell and talked. One by one they told me their names and what happened on the day of the earthquake. Their stories were all very similar, they were shocked and terrified and their houses were destroyed or damaged. A very few of them have died. The main crisis is people have nowhere to live. Many houses look ok from the outside but are missing floors, some have imploded, are structurally unsound. It was a fortuitous time for it to happen — Saturday 12.00 midday — children were home from schools. It was a Newari festival day and so many families were gathered. Those families are now dispersed in tents and in rented rooms or tin shed shelters in friends fields.

We walked down the alleys. One by one they took me to their broken houses. One by one I took their photos. One by one I looked into their eyes and they shone right back at me. Some of them took me to their new homes in tents. It was a pretty desperate sight, one I am still processing…..Nepal is a beautiful and amazing place and they need tourism. They are set up and ready for tourists. The earthquake has rippled throughout the people but has not destroyed every district…there are lots of places still standing and strong! The mountains are still here! It is the people though…They are so mentally and physically strong…Amazing.”


Shanti, with her nephew Ashok, going back to her ruined house in Bhaktapur for the first time since the earthquake. She cannot bear to look at it.

24th September 2015 “I am leaving Nepal today and flying back into India but the plight of these people is not leaving my heart. They are absolutely hopeless and helpless. Their homes are broken and they are sleeping in tents. Shanti is a knitter and an organiser of knitters. She distributes wool to ladies in Bhaktapur. Her house, although it did not fall down in the earthquake is so dangerous to go in that she and her five other family members are now living in a little brick and tin room in her friend’s field of corn. She finds it hard to keep the woollen mittens that she makes dry, because there is no keeping the rain out. She reluctantly took me to her old house. Her nephew Ashok came to support her. She has been so traumatised by the whole earthquake thing that she has not been back to the house since the day it happened. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see her lovingly touching the door of her old house…she could hardly speak…she could hardly look up. She has received around £95 in aid from the government. She was very grateful for the drop of donation money I gave to her. She welled up when I handed it to did I.”

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