Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coffee Growers

Snapshot of some of the coffee growers in Haiti.

Kim from Just Haiti keeps a blog about her peace & justice journey and covers many topics such as Columbia, Palestine and, of course, Haiti (see below for link).

The above picture is from her blog and shows some of the folks who make the coffee we enjoy so much here in Columbus. They are celebrating receiving one of their first checks for the profits from their coffee and decided to crack open some beer and have lobster on the beach!

Keep in mind that "beer and lobster" is not standard fare in Haiti. It is a strong symbol that even in the tumult, turmoil and outrageous poverty in Haiti, at least a few people are able to breathe a sign of relief and take more steps forward in life than back. Your purchase of their fairly priced and fairly traded coffee just gave these folks a chance at a better life.

You may be amazed to discover what other kinds of tremendous changes your coffee dollars are supporting in Haiti, and they go far beyond a celebratory dinner among friends. Here is the full story from Kim:

And now on to my favorite topic: coffee! I had some great meetings with the coffee growers' association (called KDB) and feel optimistic about what is happening there. I brought them their first check of profits from coffee sales. The way the project works is that they get a fair trade price for their coffee, and then after taking out expenses from the sale of it, they also receive the profits. The profit they made was higher than the original price we paid for the coffee, and the original price was much higher than market price. It just goes to show that somebody is making a lot of money in the coffee business, and it is not the growers.

I went with them to open their bank account, where they decided that three people should be signatories, and at least two have to sign before money could be removed. They were so proud...it is the first time for any of them that they have money to open an account!

The growers are working to expand the association to include more people. During a meeting, one of the growers said to the people that we are not only just growing coffee in this project: we are regenerating the coffee business in Baraderes. Until the mid-1980s, coffee was the main industry in Baraderes. It was destroyed when the coffee market crashed all over the world. It is a long story about why it collapsed, but basically it was because of an ill-conceived USAID project that funded large plantations of poor quality coffee in Vietnam and Brazil, thereby lowering the prices all over the world and thus putting small farmers out of business and exacerbating poverty in some of the poorest places in the world, including Haiti. We are regenerating the coffee industry in Baraderes, but in a way that benefits small producers, and not plantation owners or large multinational coffee companies.

Another person talked about how the association was not just about coffee: it is also about forming community and becoming like family for each other. With their profits, one thing they have done is to create a fund that will provide money for health care if people get sick, and they are also talking about ways to provide an advance to growers on their coffee sales so that they can pay their children's' school fees. They are also using part of their money to provide food to needy families after the earthquake (Just Haiti is also helping with that). I am proud to be a part of this, and I know that many of you are supporters in one way or another, and you should all be proud, too.

Before folks start thinking that Haiti is all "beer and lobster" on the beach, here is a snapshot of Baraderes, the region where the coffee is produced:

Check out her blog for the full story on the coffee growers juxtaposed against the tremendous poverty in Haiti:


Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Do Activism

There are a lot of different things happening on behalf of social justice. Certainly, it is not ever quite enough, but there is a lot going on. Right here in Columbus, you can book your calendar quite solid attending one justice-related event after another each day of the week.

There is so much going on, but so much that needs to be done. It is quite easy to get lost in the confusion. What do you do? How can you make a difference?

I recommend the following two-part strategy: First, pick an issue that is near and dear your heart. The Good Lord will guide you in this. It may even be something that surprises you, perhaps an issue you never expected. A chance encounter with a stranger may open up a whole new world for you (as a side note, there is no such thing as "chance").

But I would suggest not stopping there. The second part is this: There is a time to leave our picks and our shovels in the fields, drop everything and run to help our brothers and sisters on a particular cause. Sometimes the timing is just right and the momentum is such that it makes a difference to pull together now. In case you are wondering, all signs seems to be saying that this issue is Immigration Reform right here in the USA.

So work on a particular cause and leave some room to jump in when many hands are needed. As you reach the depths of that one cause you may find that it is fundamentally related to most other (if not all) causes for justice. For example, I may work against the death penalty, but to me what the death penalty really underscores is the extent of the radical love of Christ--even the most heinous criminal is not outside of that love. Certainly this love is not contained within the issue of the death penalty but rather spills out into everything else. The death penalty becomes a lens through which to see the whole. If this love of Christ even includes them, then that mus radically alter how we treat everybody.

This isn't the only way to do activism. I also have quite a bit of regard for groups that work on a multiplicity of issues. A smorgasbord of social justice is a very important witness to the holistic reality of life here on earth--you can't subdivide justice into this cause or that cause, but rather all justice is related, and it all matters. It makes no sense to be thoroughly against abortion but offer not even a nod to work against war or the death penalty. The very ideology under the right to life is just that--the fact that all life matters.