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Teens teach their classmates about sweatshops, human rights, terrorists

By Brenda Velasco

Combining their desire to inform classmates and the community about sweatshops with their need to raise money to travel to Georgia to protest the School of the Americas, the Gonzaga Preparatory School Peace and Justice Club recently held a Fair Trade Fashion Show.

“Some students thought we were doing a sweat suit show.  Many Students don’t even know what a sweatshop is.  That’s why we need to educate on this issue,” said 10th grader Tayshia McCovey.

Gonzaga Prep fund raiser
Gonzaga Prep students hold fashion show to raise funds.
She is one of 30 Gonzaga Preparatory students promoting social justice through the club to keep students and the public up-to-date on globalization, consumerism, sweatshops and other injustices of the world today.  Membership in the club is growing.

“The students are passionate about making a difference in the world,” said Paul Grubb, SJ, a theology teacher and campus minister at Gonzaga Prep. “They take the initiative to organize fund raisers, prayer vigils, and peace rallies to bring more awareness about the issues they support.”

The students also work to find solutions to those problems by supporting fair trade coffee and sweatshop-free products and by volunteering at local charities.

The club began eight years ago and continues to be a place where students can gather to voice their concerns and plan activities to educate their classmates about the importance of peace and social justice.

Being in a Jesuit school helps students feel free to express their faith and social justice issues openly with each other. 

“We have a good mix of people at Gonzaga Prep who are willing to talk about the issues that we raise,” said Tayshia. “Even if our classmates don’t agree with us, they still attend our events and hopefully learn something new.  I don’t think we could do that at a public school, because there, we couldn’t bring up the faith component.”

Recently, the students have been raising money to attend the School of the Americas (SOA) protest in Fort Benning, Ga., in mid November. Every year thousands of people attend the rally in hopes that the school, which trains military personnel, particularly from Latin America, will close.

The School of the Americas concerns all Jesuit institutions,” Paul said. “By attending this rally, the students have an opportunity to grow in their view of the world. It’s a chance for them to meet people, especially members of Catholic religious orders who are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. It’s good for the kids to be around these sisters, brothers or priests, many of whom are elderly. They are an inspiration to them.”

Last year, Paul took a group of students to Tacoma for an SOA-related rally.

“They met other teenagers from Jesuit schools who share their same passion for social justice,” Paul said. “They were able to talk about the issues that affected them the most and reflect on what they can do to help.”

“Young people can make a difference,” said senior Rachael Fairbanks. “If you have the right mindset, you can do anything.  I am motivated by the people at Gonzaga Prep who work for social justice. There are a lot of strong people there.”

Gonzaga Prep students took part in the SOA Awareness Rally at Gonzaga University in October.  They created a giant puppet, which they carried in a procession from the Gonzaga University campus to Riverfront Park.

“I enjoy going to protests and putting signs about our club around our school.” Rachael said. “It’s always interesting to see people’s reactions.”

Rachael’s parents and her faith have been her inspiration in her social justice involvement.

“They (parents) have taught me a lot about social justice since I was young,” she said. “I am grateful for that. They’ve helped me become a better person today.”

The club also hopes to bring more awareness to deal with sweatshops.

“Students are passionate about they way they look.” Paul said. “So they decided to find a way to combine fashion and social justice together.”

To raise money for their trip to Georgia, the students organized the “Fair Trade Fashion Show” at their school, showcasing clothes bought in stores that do not support sweatshops for their labor.

 “Sweatshops affect these students every day, whether they know it,” Paul said. “If you ask teenagers where their shoes were made they probably don’t know. Chances are they were made under sweatshop conditions. The fashion show is a way to spread the message about the inhumanity of sweatshops. We hope that they will remember and think twice before buying a certain clothing item.”

Other projects include anti-death-penalty petition drives, anti-war protests, and raising money to bring a student from East Timor to study for a year at Gonzaga Prep.

 “Our motto is for each of us to be a person who helps others,” said Tayshia. “By being involved with peace and justice we fulfill that goal.”

For information, call 483-8511.

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