Secret Lives of Lecturers: the fair trade activist

Secret Lives of Lecturers: the fair trade activist

Sara Parker teaches kids in Nepal
Sara reads book to schoolchildren in Nepal using fair trade hand puppets.

The day job:

Dr Sara Parker is a Reader in Development Studies and sociology lecturer at LJMU. For decades, she has been involved in action research focusing on improving communities in Nepal.

The secret life:

Sara runs Fair Connections, a fair trade company that produces, among other items, educational resources which not only benefit schoolchildren in the UK and Nepal but also enhances the lives of the women craftmakers producing the fair trade products.

LJMU’s connection with Nepal is long-standing. When it comes to public health, issues surrounding gender, and education, we have strong teaching and research collaborations with the country. Dr Sara Parker is one of the academics who has worked tirelessly establishing relationships and collaborating on important projects that are making a real difference to the lives of the Nepali people.

After joining LJMU in 1994, having already volunteered as a teacher in the remote village of Sikles in the Annapurna Conservation Area Project in Nepal, Sara facilitated an innovative literacy programme in the village as a part of her PhD. She then worked on a community photography project culminating in the publication of 'Our Village Our Life Sikles in Focus' a coffee table book of photos taken by and focusing on local people. Money raised from book sales continues to fund development projects to benefit the community.

When describing her work in Nepal, you can’t help but get caught up in Sara’s passion for the place and its people.

“I love the fact that when I go there I work with and meet so many inspirational people working to promote a better world and tackle inequality. Through my links and research in Nepal I have worked with so many amazing activists and have been fortunate enough to take undergraduate students on field trips. I love the impact Nepal has had on my students as many of them say it is a life-changing experience! The inspirational interviews we have online gives you a small insight into the work being done by so many women – and there are more stories to come!”

Chu Maya at her workplace in Nepal

Chu Maya with Fairis puppet. She works at the Women’s Skills Development Organization in Nepal and is featured in the children’s book.

The interviews Sara mentions takes the form of an online teaching resource, Qualitative Analysis in Action. The tool functions not only as a useful resource for qualitative data analysis, but also provides insightful narratives of some outstanding Nepali women, from activists who founded organisations to tackle caste and gender discrimination, to successful business owners giving back to their communities by setting up women’s skill development centres. The interviews promote a positive image of women in Nepal and acknowledge their contributions to society – giving a voice to the typically unheard. The next stage in the interviews project is a publication to feature the stories of less well-known but equally inspirational women.

Sara is also involved in developing educational resources to teach schoolchildren about Nepal and fair trade for her Community Interest Company, Fair Connections. She has co-written ‘Adventures of Fairis a Nepali Frog’ which is aimed at primary schoolchildren in both the UK and Nepal. The story is brought to life by accompanying puppets created by fair trade Nepali craftmakers. As characters from the book, the puppets allow children to be imaginative, re-telling the story or making up new adventures for a fun, interactive learning experience.

Nepalese children show off their puppets

Schoolchildren in Nepal show their puppets from Adventures of Fairis a Nepali Frog.

How did Sara get the idea to produce the storybook?

“I was involved in the movement that led to Liverpool becoming a Fairtrade city, I am currently the Chair of the city-wide steering group, and through my work in Nepal I met Ram Khali who runs the Women’s Skills Development Organization which features in the book. I also visited Children Nepal and had seen their amazing handmade puppets. When I took a friend to visit these organisations she put together a story sack to take to the school she taught in and this gave me the idea to write a book to connect the organisations, teach young children about Nepal, fair trade products and also what is meant by the word ‘fair’. I could see that this type of resource could also help teachers in Nepal who are working toward being more child friendly in their teaching methods.”

The video above, created by LJMU students, shows how the puppets and book are being used in schools in Nepal to enliven their lessons.

By expanding the market for products made by World Fair Trade Organisation members in Nepal, Fair Connections is having a direct and positive impact on the lives of people in the country. Back at home, it provides internship opportunities for LJMU students enabling them to gain employability skills and invaluable experience related to both ethical business and education. Even students not involved directly in Fair Connections benefit from Sara’s research, as she is able to engage students by sharing her knowledge and experience through her teaching.

“I couldn’t have done as much as I do without the support of some excellent students along the way!”

If Sara’s research has inspired you and you’re interested in studying sociology, why not take a look at the courses on offer within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences?

Fair Connections Foundation is currently raising funds to enable Sara to provide training and puppet sets to Nepal this March, to find out more visit the Fair Connections Foundation website. If you’re interested in volunteering with Fair Connections, please get in touch with Sara.

The Secret Lives of Professors/Lecturers series aims to celebrate the unique lives of the academics who make Liverpool John Moores University an amazing place to study. If you know of a lecturer who has some interesting side projects or great stories to share, please get in touch.


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