A UNICEF partnership academy is on course to become Britain's first fair trade school, Raymond Ross reports
On a freezing evening in Haddington last month, more than 100 members of pupils' families turned up to a Fair Trade night at Knox Academy.
"As far as we know, we're the first school in Scotland to do this," says Hazel Strachan, teacher of history and modern studies at the East Lothian secondary.
The event was organised by the school's youth parliament along with its Amnesty International and Scripture Union groups, with a little help from staff, particularly Mrs Strachan and principal teacher of citizenship Ollie Bray.
"Pupils probably know more about fair trade than their parents because it is embedded in the curriculum at Knox Academy - through geography, history, modern studies, English and religious and moral education - which it wasn't in their parents' day," says Mr Bray. "But the fact that so many parents have turned up shows there is an interest in the community.
"This is a terrific turnout for a first-time event," he says, smiling.
The evening began with a short video made by a 14-year-old American girl that explained the exploitative practices of many multinational companies, the dangerous working conditions of many workers in the developing world, including children, and the long hours, poor wages and abuse.
Parents then played the Fair Trade game devised by Christian Aid. "The game involves a set amount of resources, and shows that you can trade profitably without exploitation," explains S6 student Victoria MacLean.
"If you are a developing country in the game, you soon realise what a hard time you can have.
"It gets quite competitive, but it's fun and it's memorable. It evokes strong emotions and makes you think.
"You soon realise that world-trade rules need to be changed to make things fairer."
On arrival, everyone was given a fair trade package containing leaflets, magazines, useful organisations and addresses, advice on fair trade shopping and some fair trade chocolate and coffee. Some pupils were in uniform but others wore fair trade fashion items.
The school library was transformed into a mini fair with fair trade goods being shown, sold, raffled and given away. Stalls were run by Edinburgh's One World Shop, the Tear Fund and the school's Amnesty International and Scripture Union groups. The local co-operative donated fair trade goods.
Even fair trade footballs were on offer.
"Like human rights, fair trade is not always well publicised," says S6 student and Amnesty member Catriona Rooney.
"People don't think they can make a difference but they can, by spreading the word and looking for fair trade items in shops.
"And they can come to nights like this, gain knowledge and spread that knowledge. We'd love other schools to join us in doing this kind of event."
Building on the success of this event, pupils are now hoping to form a youth co-operative to get involved in Fair Trade Fortnight in March and to install a vending machine in the school that will sell fair trade items only.
The fair trade evening will now become an annual event. A coffee morning for staff and parents is also planned. But the pupils want to take their ownership of the fair-trade ideal a crucial step further.
"You can be a fair trade university, church, village or town, but to our knowledge there are no fair trade schools in Britain," says Victoria MacLean.
"Our youth parliament is very keen that we become the first, hopefully by the end of 2005, and I'm looking to see how the guidelines can be adapted to make this possible."
The youth parliament at Knox Academy, a UNICEF partnership school, meets weekly, with pupils setting the agenda and chairing the meetings. Last year, they got to the final of the BBC's Question Time competition. with their own version of the programme chaired by TV presenter Gordon Brewer, with MSPs taking the questions.
"Nights like these show that pupils care and have confidence to organise events they believe are important, events they believe can have genuine impact," says Mrs Strachan.