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Back page interview: Theona Morrison, ethical tourist

by
02 November 2006

One tends to buy by mail order here. I live in the Outer Hebrides. We get the Traidcraft catalogue, and that was where I first saw an advert for Meet the People tours.

Our house is on an island by itself. But we are linked by a causeway to North Uist. We are linked to other islands by causeways, but if we want to go to Skye or the mainland, we go by ferry or fly from Benbecula.

I can be a real pain in the neck about Traidcraft and fairly traded goods. We are so wealthy by comparison with other parts of the world.

I would encourage all churches (and others) to get the Traidcraft catalogue and have a look. The holidays would not be for everyone: you need to be reasonably fit, and, of course, have the money. But then it is no more expensive than a safari trip.

We chose South Africa because my husband had been there a few times, and we had family there. My son is an only child; so we wanted to link up with his cousins. It was a wonderful trip.

I grew up in the generation that would not have paid the airfare to travel to South Africa because of apartheid. But things have changed, and I was very keen that my son, who is nine, went on the trip "colour-blind".

It was a great trip — we were a small group, just ten including the guide and driver. We flew to Cape Town, but went up-country near to the Namibia border. It was quite remote, and felt quite intense, as we went round in our group.

I was struck by the great optimism in the country. There is a long way to go, and life is still very unequal there in many ways. But there is this optimism in the new democracy, although AIDS is a massive problem for them.

But I also got very angry and tearful when we visited District Six, an area that had been cleared of 60,000 people in 1966. I found it interesting that no one had built on it — it is now just being developed.

In South Africa, people are banging the drum. They are politically fired up. This is in direct contrast to the political apathy we always read about in Britain at election time.

It is critical that we all support fairtrade products. You have only to visit some of the different projects that export them and see what effect they have on the community.

The Winds of Change project at Cilmor produces wine, which the Co-op stocks. This means children in this South African community get an education, a meal every day, and a doctor’s visit once a month. This is just one of many examples.

When I go into the supermarket, I always push the wine and other fairtrade products to the front of the shelf.

I used to work in the corporate world [oral care and dentistry]. And then I felt a pull back to Scotland to became the sales director of a radio station in the Highlands.

Working there made me realise the importance of local fair trade . I discovered that my previous employer [a big multinational] had tried to take over this family-owned station. If they had, the results locally would have been awful.

Producers tend to get a raw deal rather than a good deal — whether it’s the sheep and fish that we have round here, or grapes, coffee beans, and crafts elsewhere.

Supermarket advertising is very much based on price. I know price is a big issue for the consumer, but the producer always gets squeezed.

I work supporting enterprise in education, a Scottish Executive initiative. I have also worked as a government adviser for women in pre-devolution days. There were only a few meetings a year, and we were an eclectic mix.

Crofting is also a collective ethos. The croft is actually the land, and we live in a croft house. Someone once described a croft as a piece of land surrounded by red tape.

Crofts tend to be rented, and the 1886 Crofting Act gave tenants security of tenure. Legislation means we can now buy, therefore becoming the landlord rather than the tenant. Some, however, are owned by business syndicates, and so on.

Here Gaelic has become very important again. My son Padruig (Gaelic for Peter) is educated in Gaelic, and as a family we sometimes attend an art course at the Gaelic college on Skye. Previous generations left here for Australia and Canada, and now they all come back to visit.

We have lots of Christian denominations here. The Free Church of Scotland, the Presbyterians, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholics — that’s not all. We are a staunchly churchgoing community.

I think the whole issue of community identity is very important to our society. The lack of it means people feel they do not belong.

Although we now have some Sunday flights, there will be no work on Sundays. That includes ferries to Lewis and Harris.

Martin Luther King’s autobiography is very inspiring. His hugely powerful sermon was written after the girls in Birmingham [Alabama] were killed around the time of the civil-rights protest, and he felt a burden of responsibility.

I always remember a lay preacher who came to speak here [the Church of Scotland on North Uist]. He spoke about Christ being the rock, and broken to provide a cleft, which became our protection.

My son remembers the same preacher. He did a children’s talk about greed: the monkey who puts his arm into the jar to get a nut, but has to drop it to get his arm out.

I love 2 Timothy 4 about running the race. I am not so keen on Revelation, as it is so mysterious and not easy to understand.

This trip to South Africa was a big decision for our family. It was also a big choice to leave the corporate business world and all its trappings. The car, expenses, and so on are like a golden handcuff.

I would not be against considering a fairtrade job in South Africa. I would like to be remembered for making a contribution.

No one is that special that they cannot be replaced. Here I have been chair of the school board, and, when I came to leave, they kept persuading me to stay. But already new people have come forward with new ideas.

I would love to be locked in a church with Richard Holloway (theologian and former Bishop of Edinburgh), so that we could have a really cracking debate.

I have had an email correspondence with him. It started after I watched him talk about parenting in a really rough area of Glasgow. It was all about how we break the cycle of deprivation.

I live in a beautiful area: it is like a spiritual retreat. But people are always my priority, and my pictures from the trip were not of scenery, but of the people.

Theona Morrison was talking to Rachel Harden.

www.traidcraft.co.uk

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