Turning shopping trips into ploughshares

The spirit of Christmas is still alive and well for those who did their shopping at Project Ploughshares 17th annual Holiday Peace Fair. Dubbed an "alternative Christmas shopping experience" the event gave Calgarians an opportunity to learn about and support not-for-profit groups working on peace, social justice and environmental issues while getting some holiday shopping out of the way. University of Calgary students participated as both shoppers and vendors.

Project Ploughshares is a nationwide registered charity involved in advocating peace and social justice through education. Project Ploughshare Project Coordinator Kerry Duncan McCartney saw this mandate reflected in the diverse range of charities and issues present.

"Today you have 27 non-profit organizations here," observed McCartney. "They were doing projects in Calgary, across Canada and around the world. There were people working for the homeless, for third world development, people were pressing for political change–all different things. You couldn’t really say what they had in common except that they had a vision of a different future."

Part of the attraction for customers is that they can be assured of the quality of the organizations they are supporting.

"The criteria that Project Ploughshares sets is really strong," McCartney asserted. "How much can go to administration, how much has to be supporting programming. We do that screening so that you know when you spend your money here, it is going for social justice."

First-year general studies major Shawn Hill worked a table for Youth Action for Peace and saw the sale as a chance to raise funds as well as promote the group’s mandate.

"We try to raise awareness among youth in such issues as the environment, human rights abuses, global warming, nuclear weapons and landmines," said Hill. "We try to educate students on what is happening around the world because a lot of people don’t know. For instance, homelessness–[people] have a lot of stereotypical views and so we just try and address those."

Allisha Sordi, an Engineering and International Relations student at
U of C, gathered signatures for the Red Cross anti-landmine campaign.

"Everyone was really friendly, lots of questions and a good turnout," noted Sordi. "Over 100 signatures for the ban landmines petition and over 25 for the youth against war petition as well."

Although the Peace Fair will not be running again until next Christmas season there are still opportunities to get involved with Project Ploughshares.

"We are really heavily into public education because we feel that there are issues that never come up in the ordinary news," said McCartney. "We hold monthly meetings on the second Wednesday of every month at Parkdale United Church. Our next meeting will be Jan. 10."

Another chance to support the conscious Christmas concept is by shopping at Ten Thousand Villages. This vendor has two permanent Calgary locations offering goods from around the world that help support people in developing nations by providing fair wages for their handicrafts. They can be found year round at 220 Crowchild Trail N.W. and 8318 Fairmount Drive S.E.

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