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Interview with Kalai Selvi

Industry Speak
Kalai Selvi
Kalai Selvi
Head of School and College Advisor
Vidyashilp Academy
Vidyashilp Academy

Bengaluru school goes for Fairtrade uniforms

Vidyashilp Academy in Bengaluru is the country's first Fairtrade School. Kalai Selvi, Head of School and College Advisor at the academy, in a conversation with Subir Ghosh.

Please tell us about the idea (of going Fairtrade). What's the story here?

Vidyashilp believes in offering learning experiences for children that is personal, relevant and meaningful to their lives. We wanted education to impact the ways of their thinking and influence positive change in them and everyone and everything around. Our school's mission 'Do well and do good' aligned itself with Fairtrade India's mission. This compatibility in the ideology coupled with the enthusiastic commitment of the young team at Fairtrade who interacted, inspired us to initiate our connection and commitment for this cause.

Implementing any idea is not easy. So, how did you go about it?

When we engage faculty and students towards embracing a new idea, the challenge certainly minimises. In fact, when my colleague Ms Ritu Bali, lead educator of the commerce department met Ms Devina (of Fairtrade) and was quite excited listening to her, it inspired me to know about the organisation and its work. Seeing her interest and the potential of enriching our students' learning experiences, we moved forward looking at how the Fairtrade school kit activities could be incorporated into our curriculum. Our students love to do something that is hands-on and engage in activities that allows their self-confidence to surface. It was a perfect match for our needs.

Implementing any idea is not easy. So, how did you go about it?

Why did you get into this? Was it because of passion and belief? Or, did you believe that it was a good idea because it would work?

I am not sure if it is passion or belief, but certainly a necessity-an obligation as a resident of this special planet. The food we eat, the clothes we wear-need to make us guilt-free. Our children need to be sensitised about being fair, remaining healthy, both in body and mind. They need to become ethical while meeting the ever-growing demands (which of course is inevitable). While consuming their food can they think of those who are behind it; while wearing their clothes can they give few seconds to think how they got those; can they do something in their own capacity? If we ask them to think of those who are starving, it's difficult for them genuinely to empathise, because they have never been through that experience; they have never felt the pangs of hunger. However, just being a little aware of what they are buying is something what they can easily do. So, getting them to identify the Fairtrade Mark and encouraging them to buy those products can be a small step towards a big change that is desperately needed.

From idea to implementation is never smooth. How much of course correction did you have to do? Or, was yours a perfect plan? Could you elaborate either way?

Phase 1 classes (1 to 5) used the video link. The children watched it in their EVS classes. They were very sensitive and started thinking, with most questions revolving around how they could help farmers. Phase 2 classes (8 to 12) initiated conversations around the theme. They were actively involved in the sale of Fairtrade products during our sports day event, and parent-teacher meetings. On our sports day, it was inspiring to see our children explaining (the subject) to the parents who walked up to the kiosk to inquire about Fairtrade. Parents were very receptive and encouraged into buying products, and also assuring that they would start recognising the Fairtrade Mark. The faculty bought a lot of the products to spread awareness among their respective family members. My own Diwali gifts to others were the Fairtrade chikkis and turmeric powder.

How many people were involved in the conceptualisation of the project?

EVS teachers of Phase 1 (9-member team) and commerce department of Phase 2 (7-member team).

What about your own outreach?

Since we have it as part of our school programme, I sent this year's annual reflections circular stating to all our parents that we are going to be the first Fairtrade school in India. Some 6,500 people should know about it-2,000 students, their 4,000 parents, 250 staff of our school and their families.

And how does your project fit into this understanding/idea (about sustainability)?

When we learnt that for a farmer (as of now) it might make only a small difference, we decided that with 2,000 children of VSA wearing uniforms that is 100 per cent eco-friendly may mark the beginning of a positive change that in turn will have a little positive impact on our farmer friends.

What role do you think that the overall cotton/textiles/apparel/fashion industry can and should play in overall sustainable development? In what way?

Establishing protocols to be fair, creating advertisements to show what goes behind that creation, and ensuring equity in the profit distribution might be a good start. If big brands begin to write stories (the true ones) behind the clothes line in their stores and if the people who buy them understand it as well, that would be a great start.
Published on: 24/04/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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