Cross-posted from the Global Exchange People-to-People blog for the 8-part Giving Thanks series. Global Exchange is highlighting individuals who are contributing to our social justice work in some way. Join me in thanking fellow travelers, activists and past Reality Tours participants, Anne Kelly and Mark Van Wormer.

I met Anne and Mark on a Reality Tour delegation to Nicaragua in 2008. The delegation focused on Fair Trade and Alternatives to Neo-Liberalism and everyone on the trip was interested in the issue of Fair Trade just like myself, so I knew I would find common ground with my fellow travelers. Little did I know that I would also make some long lasting friendships with fellow social justice activists.

On the delegation we shared an incredible experience of meeting with different human rights activists, indigenous groups, labor unionists and even got to slide down a volcano. However, I think the most eye opening part of the delegation was our stay at La Corona, a Fair Trade coffee cooperative where we met with Fair Trade farmers and were able to see first hand the positive benefits of the Fair Trade system. For Fair Trade advocates, this experience really contextualized our work as activists, and gave us fuel to energize the movement back home.

Anne and Mark have since strengthened their work as Fair Trade activists at home in New York, even going on another Reality Tour delegation to Guatemala, connecting with more Fair Trade activists and women’s cooperatives. Anne is currently working at the the Labor-Religion Coalition of NY State where she is the Fair Trade Coordinator and working with teachers who are engaging a new generation of activists. She has even made strong connections with Global Exchange’s Fair Trade cocoa campaign being participating organizations in both the Give Fair Trade and Reverse Trick-or-Treating campaigns.

I just love that kids are learning what solidarity means – that we are all connected and that injustice in one part of the world impacts us all. That, of course, is central to my work with labor unions too. Social justice and human rights issues – the dignity of the worker, living wage, working against oppression, the right to organize – are union issues too and Fair Trade embodies all these concerns.

Our delegation at La Corona Cooperative in Nicaragua.

Mark is a photographer and teaches photo, video and digital imaging at Emma Willard, a private independent school for girls. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Mark has produced volumes of novels. Mark has been able to use his photography to share his Fair Trade stories, even having some of his (and Anne’s) photos featured in the 2011 Fair Trade calendar by the Fair Trade Resource Network. See those photos and more at Mark’s photography website.

Together, both Anne and Mark have been able to make an impact by engaging the students at Emma Willard to make it the first Fair Trade high school in all of US. A tremendous feat for the Fair Trade Universities movement!

And it is these stories from Anne and Mark that I am extending a very warm thank you from me and Global Exchange for being exceptional Reality Tours participants and being a great example of global citizens amongst the Global Exchange community and beyond. They have been able to take their experience on two delegations of meeting the people, learning the facts and then making a real difference. As Anne shares:

I am grateful, so much, for the doors that have been opened to me through my connection with Global Exchange. I continue to be inspired, every day, by the people and places we connected with on our trips. You know about how wonderful our Nicaragua experience was. To be welcomed, deeply, into peoples’ lives and their struggles is humbling beyond words and enriches my life. Our trip to Guatemala has also connected us. We’re now on the board of Mayan Hands, an absolutely wonderful FT organization that works with Mayan weavers in the highlands of Guatemala. We’ve been back (me to learn Spanish!) and folks from Mayan Hands have even come to visit us. It was exciting to bring them to classrooms and to see FT stores here in the US.

I feel very lucky to have met Anne and Mark and am absolutely thrilled to be able to share their stories with you. Thank you!

Make your own long lasting connections and go on a Reality Tour delegation.

Read all the posts from the Giving Thanks series and don’t miss the “Giving Thanks’ video to debut on Wednesday, November 24th.