French, geography and art and design were all part of the mix when this year’s Fairtrade visitor to Devon, Abdoulaye Diakite, visited schools across the County. Abdoulaye, an agricultural engineer and organiser of Fairtrade and organic cotton producers in Mali, spoke to the largest number of schools ever by a Fairtrade producer during Fairtrade fortnight in Devon. Abdoulaye gave a fascinating presentation in French to hundreds of primary and secondary pupils across Devon.He told them a little about life in Mali, about the process of cotton farming and how Fairtrade had benefited his community. One pupil from Barnstaple said: ”I learnt how cotton was made and how some workers don’t get treated fairly”.
Andrew Bell, Fairtrade schools conference coordinator at Devon Development Education said: “I was extremely impressed by the enthusiasm and warmth that Abdoulaye demonstrated towards pupils throughout the whole two weeks. He must have been quite exhausted by the end of his time here as he was often attending events mornings, afternoons and evenings. However, it didn’t show as every time he spoke, to every new audience, he spoke with passion and from the heart. He is clearly very committed to his community in Mali and knows all too well just what a difference Fairtrade cotton has made to the lives of so many.”
Abdoulaye revealed what a difference Fairtrade had made for the women cotton growers in Mafele village. They have felt greatly empowered by the improved, stable and guarenteed income that Fairtrade and organic cotton has bought them as well as improving their working conditions and rights. The social premium, awarded to all communities supplying products to the Fairtrade market, has been used to build a maternity unit which has meant women no longer have to travel 25Km (often by bicycle or on a donkey!) to give birth. They call their Fairtrade and organic cotton “noble cotton” because of what it has done for them.
Activities in Devon schools included looking at bogolan art, a traditional process in Mali involving painting symbols with mud onto cotton cloth and playing a role play game that exposes the unfairness of the cotton trade: pupils where horrified that with conventional cotton, the cotton farmers earn just 5 pence from a cotton shirt costing £5 in the shops. One pupil from Bovey Tracey said: “It was great today! I loved learning about bogolan cloth and cotton”.
Abdloulaye’s visit tied in well with the highly acclaimed DDE project and resource pack Take Mali. This offers an interactive digital resource with a range of ICT and video materials and uses French within the Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 Framework for Languages to explore issues of sustainable development. It has been developed in association with Devon Learning and Development Partnership
Matt Partridge, a coordinator of the Take Mali project said: “During Fairtrade fortnight we have run activities from the resource which have clearly been very motivating for pupils and have prompted the need to take action to improve prospects for children’s lives in Mali. Working alongside has taken things to another level. Hearing first-hand from Mr Diakité the impact that buying Fairtrade cotton can have on a local community clearly hit home with many pupils who were determined to pass the message on”.
Sharon Tanner, another Take Mali coordinator, added: “Abdoulaye clearly inspired the children to want to know more about Mali. They had lots of questions for him, not just about the cotton production, but about his family and daily life. It was really helpful to be able to offer teachers a resource which would enable them to explore this fascinating culture and country further with their classes”.
Abdoulaye also visited a wide variety of other places during his stay including the Eden Project, the Met Office in Exeter and a celebration of Fairtrade at Exeter City Football Club sponsored by The Co-operative Group, Exeter Fairtrade Group and Fairtrade Devon. He was warmly received wherever he went.