Fair Trade Coffee: How One Class Funds Scholarships

Photo on 12-10-15 at 8.50 AM (1)Bruce Chase teaches Spanish at Fair Haven Union High School in Fair Haven, Vermont. With the help of his students, he has been supporting the Santiago Scholarship Program since 2011.

My first time in Santiago Atitlán was 2004, when I traveled with a group of high school students.  I have been back on two separate occasions. On one trip, I met the director of a small Mayan Elementary School, where the children only spoke tzutujil. It was during this visit that I recognized the need for students to receive support to continue their education. As a teacher I am passionate that all children have access to education. The people of Santiago are sincere and loving people.

As a teacher, I understand the importance of education. There can be no chance of turning around the cycle of poverty without shifting a paradigm for education. Generations have come to accept limitations in their daughters’ ability to pursue education. Likewise, boys may only pursue a high school education at best. Were students exposed to further education, they would become more productive and proactive citizens, not only the basics of reading and writing, but also knowing about how to be creatively proactive when approaching the complicated problems that face a community as marginalized and conflicted as Santiago.

My interest as a teacher is to connect my students with the “so what?” of learning, that is, to connect them to their world through relevant and real projects. I created what I call a “Coffee Unit”. Coffee is particularly important to Spanish speaking countries, as coffee is an important crop for many of these countries. Students learn about the economic difference between Fair Trade and Free Trade as it relates to the coffee growers. To further their learning, around the Christmas holiday season, students sell coffee from a local roaster who sells coffee from a local farm owned by the author Julia Alvarez.

The students sell Fair Trade coffee to their family and friends. Proceeds from these sales support the Santiago Scholarship fund. In this way, the students’ motivation for learning about coffee is a result of their interest in helping underprivileged students their own age to further their education and economic opportunities.  It follows the “teach someone to fish and they will eat for a lifetime” metaphor. In an ironic twist, students are only encouraged to sell one pound of coffee. Every year, a small handful of students become so passionate that they end up selling as much as 10 to 20 pounds of coffee.

As part of another project, students write and illustrate children’s stories in Bare Books.  These stories are intended to provide children of Santiago a glimpse of life in Vermont.  These books are sent to the Puerta Abierta library in Santiago, to share with the scholarship students and others. My students learn about the scholarship students through the Nuestras Notas publications.

Working with Natik has made easy the possibility of connecting my students to students in Santiago.  This has been a truly valuable connection these past four years.  My students and I are happy to be able to sponsor two scholarship students in 2016!

  • To see the video and find out more about the Scholarship Fund, go here.
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