Friends of Fresh and Green Academy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports a school for impoverished children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and a cooperative that provides fair trade jobs for the mothers of the students.
What is your origin story?
Fresh and Green Academy, a school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia was founded in 2000 by a local teacher, Muday Mitiku, to provide education and food to impoverished, at-risk children. Muday soon realized, though, that if she was to truly change the trajectory of the students’ lives she would also need to help empower their mothers, many of them being prostitutes, single-parents or in abusive relationships. Muday created a women’s cooperative to give them the skills and opportunities they needed to change their lives and those of their children. It started with 22 women doing rudimentary beading work.
I heard about Fresh and Green Academy from one of my colleagues. Inspired by the Academy’s mission, I decided to visit Addis Ababa and see the school for myself. After witnessing the amazing work being done, I was determined to help the school succeed. I created Friends of Fresh and Green Academy in New York City to help raise funds for the school. We have expanded our efforts and are not also raising money to support the women’s cooperative. Donations for the cooperative are used primarily to purchase materials.
How is the cooperative doing?
The cooperative has really taken off! Through word of mouth, approximately 200 women have joined the cooperative. In order to increase the women’s skills, we hired a local weaver to teach them how to weave. In Ethiopia, weaving is considered men’s work so it has been interesting to see that cultural shift. Thanks to donations, we now have over 20 looms. Some women are also learning how to weave baskets and make pots. Although Muday does sell some of the items locally, we sell the majority of the items here in New York City. The money that the women make from these sales goes towards rent and food.
When did you join the New York City Fair Trade Coalition and what does fair trade mean to you?
I joined the coalition in 2010 and am thrilled to be part of such a vibrant community of entrepreneurs. Defining fair trade is an interesting exercise and something I am continuing to define in the context of my organization. Friends of Fresh and Green Academy is not Fair Trade certified and I cannot fully trace the sustainability of the materials that the women use to make their products, but the organization does pay women a fair trade wage that gives them a source of income and empowerment. Is it enough in the fair trade world if the women are paid fair trade wages but I cannot trace the sustainability of the materials? I would love to know what other Coalition members think!
You made an interesting point about the sustainability of the materials. Can you elaborate?
Ethiopia’s economy, especially in Addis Ababa, is growing very quickly. According to some estimates, it is the 5th largest growing economy in Africa. This is in no small part a result of Chinese investments. While Ethiopia does produce some cotton, it still relies heavily on imports from China and India. When you go to the Mercato Africa’s largest outdoor market which is located in Addis Ababa, you can see beads and colored fiber from China. With materials coming from China and India, it is hard to determine their sustainability.
The New York Fair Trade Coalition is here to help all members reach their goals! What is your call to action for our members?
First, let me just say what a privilege it is to be part of such an amazing group whose members support each other. As women, it is often easier for us to offer help rather than solicit it! My call to action would be to:
Visit our volunteer page!
Purchase items made by the women’s cooperative! Friends of Fresh and Green is now on Etsy! If you order before December 19th and have a beautiful scarf in time for Christmas!
Donate to the school and/or the women’s cooperative.
Help us target donors and recruit Board members.
Let us know if you have any ideas for how to source sustainable raw materials in Ethiopia.
Send referrals for an intern/volunteer to help with the marketing and sale of products. Friends of Fresh and Green is currently looking for a graduate student with a background in marketing and sales to help us improve our marketing and sales strategy, especially through social media and online retailers. Prospective candidates should have experience in analyzing web analytics and using WordPress. The internship is part-time for one semester with an opportunity for extension. If interested or know of anyone, please contact Trish through the contact page!
I want to thank the New York City Fair Trade Coalition for providing a platform to introduce Friends of Fresh and Green. I look forward to meeting other members and to sharing advice and experience that will help each other on our respective journeys!