After months of meticulous planning, just two days prior to greeting our two special speakers from Palestine at Heathrow airport for our SUSY Speakers Tour (which coincided with Fair Trade Fortnight), we received the deeply disappointing news that they would no longer be able to come to the UK. Bassema Barahmeh and Lamis Zamzam, both working in partnership with Fairtrade in Palestine and Zaytoun (a cooperative which creates a market place for Palestinian produce in the UK), were denied their visas.
As much as this was a shock to all the partners involved, including us at Think Global, we learnt how commonplace this restriction of travel is for Palestinians, whether it is within the State of Palestine, within Israel, or across international borders. Fortunately, Zaytoun were able to reorganise the tour schedule at the very last moment to cover our events. We had Taysir Arbasi, Zaytoun’s Palestinian director, to fill in and we were consoled by the fact that Veena Nabar, a specialist on the cooperative sector in India, particularly on the 2004 tsunami hit Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was still able to join us.
Social and solidarity economies, which includes cooperatives, are an alternative economic model that can help to alleviate poverty and meet the needs of local communities. They allow for marginalised communities to find a voice, highlighting their struggles through different means that also improves their way of life.
Whilst sharing at Brighton and Hove Social Enterprise Network, Taysir stressed the importance of Palestinian farmers working with a cooperative organisation, therefore contributing towards their own economy at a grass roots level, “Fairtrade means a way to live. To become a part of a global movement, to maintain productions and generate income. We’re insisting a life with dignity and a future with dignity.”
Throughout the Speakers Tour, we had to repeatedly explain to students, teachers, social enterprise networks, general members of the public, why Bassema and Lamis were not able to join us. It particularly hit home during our final event in Brighton, after an arduous week of planning, re-planning and traveling, we were finally engaging with the general public within a public space. That evening’s attendees were from all types of backgrounds and interest groups. Seeing Bassema and Lamis’ faces as their video message was played to express their regret for not being able to be there in person, their optimism of being able to visit UK and share the beauty of Palestine with everyone, epitomises why it is called ‘the social and solidarity economy’. We were all present in solidarity with Bassema, Lamis and other local producers and farmers who have been denied their freedom, rights and access to a better way of living. If we as members of the public, engage and support these cooperatives, millions of lives can be taken out of poverty.
Atif, the co-founder of Zaytoun, said, “We are giving consumers a chance to contribute to justice and fairness. Producers are sharing their stories and values with the consumers. Zaytoun only survives through solidarity and sustainability, and critical consumers being involved.” Consumers aren’t just simply consuming. They become informed stakeholders in the sustainable and just livelihoods of the producers.
Veena’s research proved how shattered communities on the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, ravaged by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, for the last decade have been able to completely transform their home through the selling of coconuts. From these local cooperatives, new homes and schools were built, creating better social cohesion and generating a sustainable source of income. Most importantly a renewed level of resilience and hope for the islands residents.
Find out what you can do to contribute to social and solidarity economies. Check out SUSY website for what SSEs might be near you. http://uk.solidarityeconomy.eu/near-you/susy-map/
Contact your local MP to challenge and help overturn the decision to prevent Bassema and Lamis, and other Fairtrade producers, from entering the UK.
Use #whynovisa : http://www.zaytoun.org/news.php
Watch this message of support sent from from Oxfam Youth Ambassadors at Colchester County High School for Girls to Bassema and Lamis: http://bit.ly/2nLrLjM
Download a full report of the Speakers’ Tour here: Speakers’ Tour report