Gimli, Manitoba | Feb 19, 2016. Gimli High School, situated in the small lakeside town of Gimli, Manitoba, has become the 5th Fair Trade school in Canada.  Gimli High School has been actively involved in raising awareness and improving its own practices around Fair Trade since 2008.  Students of Gimli High School have been an active force in creating positive pressure within the Evergreen School Division and the Town of Gimli, which became Manitoba`s first Fair Trade Town in 2009, to take on the challenge of adopting and living out the values behind buying ‘fair trade’.  For Evergreen School Division, a commitment to become a fair trade school division was about modeling for students what it means to be a contributing citizen in our world.  Students also sit on the Gimli Fair Trade Committee.

Buying Fairtrade certified products ensures that those who are producing our chocolate, coffee, tea, clothing, fruit, and many other products in developing countries, are earning a fair wage in a safe work environment, and can use the return to support their communities in a variety of ways.  This is something that students at Gimli High School could really buy into.  As one student, Cameron Lozinski phrased it, “we need to know where our stuff comes from and what it means to those people who actually produced it.  We need to make informed purchasing choices.”

Since the very inception of this student effort, the Manitoba Council For International Cooperation, and specifically Zack Gross, has been active in creating opportunity for us to grow towards becoming a ‘Fair Trade School’.  In 2009 MCIC worked closely with Gimli High School and Evergreen School Division to adopt fair trade practices. The fair trade commitment is now part of their procurement policies and, more importantly, their daily practices.  We were offered support by MCIC to conduct workshops in the school to familiarize the student body with fair trade. They also supplied us with fair trade goods or put us in contact with people who could.  Most of the student planned events were supported in part by MCIC and the Youth Community Partnership, a forward looking group of local students, along with merchants, political representatives, teachers and parents.

We continued to engage in various fair trade events over the next seven years including selling fair trade chocolate, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate at dozens of events.  We promoted fair trade through the sale of fair trade t-shirts, often with another cause, be it to support citizens in Haiti and the Phillipines due to natural disasters there.  We sold fair trade pajamas produced by former sex trade workers at Christmas time, and sold fair trade roses on Valentine’s Day.  Students and staff have participated in a ‘Reverse Halloween’ for ten years running where we handed out fair trade chocolates to homes in the community while collecting non-perishable food items for our local food bank.  Students introduced fair trade sporting equipment to the school division and to the local community soccer league.

Since 2012, students took this to another level.  On February 14th 2012 YCP held their very first Fair Trade Coffee Haus to kick off the Fair Trade Manitoba One Month Challenge. This event was held at a local coffee shop called Kaffe Haus where local musicians played and guests enjoyed delicious Fair Trade coffee and tea. Guests were engaged in discussions on Fair Trade and many signed on to the One Month Challenge, which sought commitments from people to begin buying Fair Trade products.  Three different coffee houses were held over that year to help put fair trade on the map in Gimli.  In addition to this, the school cafeteria got involved by preparing and serving muffins made with Fair Trade bananas and chocolate chips.

The Grad Committee of 2013 planned their big day with fair trade in mind as well.  They ordered Fair Trade hoodies from JustShirts cooperative in El Salvador, and provided fair trade coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate at the dinner.  In order to raise funds for grad they held a fair trade fashion show In March of 2013, GHS students marched down Centre Street to promote the cause of fair trade and to encourage merchants to consider moving in that direction.  Finally, a visit from Jennifer Williams of Camino, allowed students to bring their efforts full circle by learning about how their efforts make a tangible difference abroad. In the years since, GHS has continued with their efforts in a variety of ways. 

What has helped along the way is the way local businesses, including the Fresh Carrot, Super A, Macs, Kaffe Robins, Husky, Pharmasave, Sobey’s, Tergesens, Koma, and the Manitoba Liquour Mart, cooperated with the Gimli High School Social Justice club to purchase and provide fair trade items for the Gimli Community and our school.

Shania Sveinson, a student who has been heavily involved at GHS from 2009-2013 was one of many students who were instrumental in the change.  “Students at Gimli High School are very passionate about Fair Trade and making a difference globally. We hold different events throughout the year to educate people on what Fair Trade is, and how you can integrate Fair Trade into your life”, Sveinson said, “We don’t want to make just a short-term difference but an everlasting one.” We are proud to say that the fair trade literacy and practices have increased in our school and community because of these efforts, and that our students have built confidence in becoming agents of change in their communities.

“Gimli, Manitoba has been a leader in fair trade for many years, with the town becoming one Canada’s first, back in 2009. It’s only fitting that Gimli High School is named Canada’s 5th Fair Trade School today, remaining in the lead of the pack. The hard work and dedication of the students, teachers, the principal, and the school division as whole, is nothing short of inspiring” – Sean McHugh, Canadian Fair Trade Network.

“What an inspiring dedicated group! The staff and students involved in making this a reality are true social justice leaders. Thanks to them, farmers and workers in the Global South have the power to create better lives for themselves and their communities. Congratulations!” – Mélissa Dubé, Fairtrade Canada.

“The commitment to fair trade of students and staff at Gimli High School offers a strong example to schools across Canada as well as other institutions in their own community!  Congratulations to Gimli High School, the 5th Fair Trade School in Canada!” – Éric St-Pierre, Association québécoise du commerce équitable.

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