Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A quick Life School visit….then back to work!

Andrea’s husband Eddie is currently the Director of the Life School, a K-8 bilingual school in Pana, so yesterday we took a break from our usual work at OB to spend a few hours with the students during their last week before summer vacation. The school is one of the best in Pana, but is really small – each grade has only around 5-10 students - and we were surprised to see how energetic, engaged, and interested all of the students were, and what a great command of English many of them had already, even at the pre-K/Kindergarten level. 

Eddie told us that one of the best things about Life School is its amazing family and community support. Because the school is so small, it’s a pretty competitive process for students to be accepted, and one of the things that the school looks for are families that will be supportive and involved in their children’s education. Though we weren’t able to stay through lunch, we heard that many of the students’ families will bring lunch to the school and actually stay and eat with their kids. Last fall, I volunteered at Manzanita SEED, a bilingual elementary school in downtown Oakland - and without going into too many details, the contrasts between Life School in Pana and Manzanita SEED are simply enormous. For one, unlike at Manzanita SEED, it was clear that each of the students at Life School wanted to be there, and wanted to learn - and from what I could tell, parents and families of the students echoed this sentiment. Below are a few pictures from my morning with Life's younger students, working on the alphabet, doing an art project, and going to the pool for swimming lessons.

Today, we are back working at OB. We’ve been compiling some background information about the cooperatives we’ll be working with, as well as details about their relationships with both Nest and OB, and some information about how costing is determined for products sold in OB’s fair trade store.

When artisans bring in products for sale in OB’s store, they are responsible for costing the products themselves and for bringing in documentation to show their costing process. OB community facilitators have recently lead costing workshops in each community to teach the artisans how to complete this process, and to demonstrate the importance of keeping track of the costs of their raw materials and the number of labor hours accurately and honestly. To facilitate this process, OB provides a separate sheet for each type of product listing the raw materials and different steps in the production process. Artisans must fill out this sheet for each product that they bring into the store, explaining how they used these standards to determine the selling price. OB also has separate quality control standards for each type of product to ensure that products sold in the store are consistent and of good quality. These standards include consistency, exact measurements, good presentation and design, and cleanliness of product, as well as various specific standards depending on the type of product. Using this process – rather than OB costing the items itself – allows artisans to take responsibility for their own work and to prepare themselves for conducting similar transactions with other organizations (such as Nest) or in the international market. However, there are also some problems with this that I’m beginning to explore. For example, we’ve noticed that some of the same products are sold at different prices in the store – like scarves of similar material and design that sell for anywhere from Q100-Q125. From a fair trade perspective, it’s important to compensate artisans for all of their labor, even if they needed more time than usual (or more time than another artisan) to complete a specific product. But from the perspective of the international market, pricing products in this way could be problematic, and I hope to look into this more in coming weeks.

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