Building a School out of Bananas and Cooperation

Carla Veldhuyzen, Fairtrade’s Regional Manager for the Andean Region, attended the opening of a school paid for in part by Fairtrade Premium funds from a local foundation created by Fairtrade banana farmers.

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Ten year old Soffy Carolina Vidal has seen a lot of change in her short school career in the Colombian village of El Tigre. She began learning in a family’s backyard before their impromptu school was moved to an old pig shed. From there they were moved to the shade of a mango tree before workers at the Fairtrade farm, Miramar, discovered the conditions and did something about it.

On the first day of classes after school holidays this past January, FUNTRAJUSTO, a Fairtrade workers’ foundation made up of 15 certified farms, inaugurated its first joint project, uniting workers to build a primary school for the 35 students that had been receiving classes in a pig shed.

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The original pig shed where the students of El Tigre studied

Since 2011, Fairtrade Liaison Officer Alfredo Zabarain has been working with the Premium Committees that make up FUNTRAJUSTO to slowly change their mindset moving them from using the Premium for individual benefit to look around and see how they can help the surrounding communities.

FUNTRAJUSTO, was created in 2012. By putting together 5 percent of their annual Fairtrade Premium budget, they were able to negotiate with the local municipality and jointly address one of the heartfelt needs within the community: a school for the kids in El Tigre.

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Students study the school plans as construction begins

Soffy, who wrote about the journey in her diary,  cannot withhold her tears during the opening ceremony of the school, too late for her to enjoy, as she is moving on to secondary school this year, but happy for her companions who now have a proper school to study and play in.  

While the teacher is organizing his classroom, the kids try out the playground and Tim Aldred, a visitor from the Fairtrade Foundation, is inflating a huge banana, the Premium Committee presidents contemplate the result of many month of hard work, frustration and persuading each other to continue, and are genuinely proud of what they have accomplished.

They must be thinking “What’s next?”