A life changing experience

Published online at OXFAM’s Make Trade Fair Website, December 2005

When university student Paula Tanquieng arranged a work placement with the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), little did she dream that it would turn out to a life-changing experience that would turn her into a Make Trade Fair activist.

Paula recalls the summer of 2003, when a friend suggested a work placement with the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA). With only a vague idea of what the organisation did, she and three other students from her university became the first batch of FTA volunteers.

One of the volunteers’ early tasks was to collate press cuttings about trade issues. Paula learned that farmers were banding together in the face of threats posed by liberalized trade to domestic production.

“What’s wrong with loads of cheap, imported goods in the local market?” Paula thought at the time. “Consumers get real bargains, right?”

As an economics student, Paula wanted to find out more. She read up on international trade issues. She listened to the stories of the vegetable growers, shoe manufacturers, fishers, workers and other local producers who came to FTA discussion groups.

The “free market” didn’t seem so free anymore, with its rules that favor a privileged few while putting many others at a disadvantage.

Back at university, Paula and the other volunteers organized a Trade Fair to promote Filipino products. Then they set up an FTA youth group called Youth Advocates for Economic Progress. The university professors were very supportive, and were among the first to sign up to The Big Noise.

Now an economics major, and in her second year of law school, Paula also works with Fair Trade Alliance – this time as a member of staff. FTA is currently touring a photo essay exhibition around schools and universities, as a way of raising awareness and collecting signatures for The Big Noise.

Paula explains how she feels about Make Trade Fair: “I think this campaign is really important and meaningful. This is a way of making people’s voices heard internationally and showing that the different problems encountered by people locally are all interconnected, and can be addressed through shared action around the world. We’re talking about our future, our children’s future.”

The global Big Noise Petition will be presented to ministers this month at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong.

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