Live Well, Do Good

It’s Only Fair to Care, Downtown, Over Coffee

Brandon Sun, May 3, 2007 - David McConkey

The time is last Thursday evening. I am enjoying a coffee break at Scarlatti’s Cappuccino Bar on Rosser Avenue. The coffee is delicious and the company wonderful.

Deanna Ginn is speaking with me in her role as voluntary President of the Marquis Project. I have been a Board member of that non-profit organization in the past and I am here to get an update.

Our coffees are “fair trade.” This is most appropriate as we are getting together on the cusp of Fair Trade Week in May.

Ginn starts by talking about the fair trade products available at the Marquis store, Worldly Goods, like coffee, tea, and chocolate. “These little luxuries that we are able to enjoy so easily can come at a significant cost to others in poorer countries if they aren’t fairly traded,” says Ginn.

What is fair trade? The objective, she says, is to provide decent working conditions and wages to workers, and to be produced in environmentally sustainable ways. Although the concept has recently become somewhat mainstream, Marquis has been importing products with that aim from its partners in Africa since the 1980s.

Ginn emphasizes just how remarkable the Marquis Project is, and how many lives it has touched, both globally and locally. Marquis is an independent Westman organization that is nationally recognized for its overseas work, local educational programs, and for simply surviving the cuts in federal funding in the mid 1990s.

Ginn lists some recent Marquis projects in Tanzania. One deals with HIV / AIDS. Another encourages the sustainable production of sweet potatoes. Because of the Vitamin A, I learn, eating this vegetable reduces the incidence of blindness among children.

A third Marquis project in Tanzania focuses on sustainable energy: dehydrators to better preserve food, more efficient cooking stoves, and reforestation.

If Marquis is one of the organizational gems of the community, then Ginn is one of the personal gems. In addition to her volunteer work at Marquis, she delights local audiences with her performances as a singer. She is also the director of the Prairie Blend men’s choir.

Ginn is currently a new teacher of early years in Brandon. At one point in our coffee break, Ginn bursts into song. I get to hear the “Caring for the Earth Rap” that she and her Grade 3 and 4 Betty Gibson students have composed. Those lucky kids!

Scarlatti’s is an excellent location for our coffee break, since it is right next door to the future location of Marquis at 912 Rosser. Ginn says that the move to the new location in the next few weeks will provide more room for retail products, office staff, and educational presentations. Right now, volunteers are busy getting the new space ready.

When Marquis moves in beside Scarlatti’s, it will help make that part of Rosser one of the most interesting – and international - in the city. The Double Decker tavern and the Chilly Chutney restaurant are just across the street. Ten Thousand Villages is on the next block. Other intriguing shops are nearby.

As we are concluding our coffee break, Ginn notes that one Marquis event for Fair Trade Week will be a presentation of the documentary film “Buyer Be Fair” at the Evans Theatre on Friday, May 4th at 7:00 p.m. Admission is $5 and includes a cup of fair trade coffee.

Ginn also mentions that Marquis will offer, for the first time, fair trade flowers for this Mother’s Day.

Just as we say good bye, we reflect on the recent visit to Brandon of Stephen Lewis and his talk on HIV / AIDS in Africa. One of the questions from the audience was “What can we do?”

Citizens are needed, said Lewis, to fill the moral leadership gap left by governments. One suggestion he had was for the public to challenge politicians during the next Canadian federal election.

Another was to support good non-governmental organizations. There are worthy national organizations and Lewis mentioned several, including his own foundation.

Westman is fortunate to have its own right here: the Marquis Project on Rosser Avenue.

* * * 

See also:

The Marquis Project

Fair Trade Manitoba

Reflecting on Consumption 

"Small World" Column by Zack Gross (Brandon Sun)

Books about fair trade at   (or at

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