Friday, March 17, 2017

Grace in Nicaragua ... "Last Thoughts and Images"

This past month, members of Grace Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas, were part of a mission team in Nicaragua, partnering with the the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Equal Exchange, getting a first-hand look at the coffee farming business in Nicaragua. The trip will provide Presbyterians who are involved or interested in fair trade to see how it works and meet face-to-face with those who grow the coffee.

Grace in Nicaragua ... "Last Thoughts and Images"

Upon our return to Managua, we toured Stahl’s, a unionized textile factory in a free-trade zone. We found that safety standards seemed to be achieved (as a result of the union), though the employees’ wages are insufficient to support them, at approximately $180/month, when $400/month is deemed as sufficient.

In addition, we visited a women’s craft cooperative, named Esperanza en Accion or Hope in Action. The spokeswoman shared her own story of supporting her children as a single mother by scavenging copper and brass at the city dump. She was offered training and community—and hope!—by this cooperative. The staff teaches women crafts, provides small loans and an inviting atmosphere in which to sell their goods. That same day, we stopped by Batahola Norte, a community center where adults and children take coursework for credit and gain peacemaking skills to use in their homes and neighborhood. This center has been blessed with art; beautiful murals cover the walls of their building.

On our last day, we listened to—and learned from—speakers Mark Lester, who discussed Fair Trade vs. Free Trade, and Evenor Jerez, the sub-director of CEPAD. Mr. Jerez spoke of CEPAD and the organization’s various community programs. They work in partnership with approximately 40 communities at a time for five years, focusing on leadership training, economic development and food security and care of the environment. The needs of the different communities drive the projects of CEPAD. For instance, that afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit a couple of recipients of water-capture systems (cisterns). These cisterns were funded by a grant from the Presbyterian Hunger Program---and the grant was funded by money made from Equal Exchange sales of coffee. For every pound of coffee sold, Equal Exchange gives the PHP $.15---and thus, they can utilize these grants to assist and teach these farmers who had trouble sustaining their families through recent droughts.

With these last thoughts—and many images fleeting through our minds, we left Nicaragua with a week’s worth of memories. We hope that we are able to share and convey the passion that we feel with regard to purchasing “fairly”, when possible or available. In making a conscientious effort to purchase via fair trade, we are able to empower families and communities, to give them hope and a sustainable future, to give them love.

Thus, we want to encourage Tres Rios presbytery to continue to support programs and expenditures which provide help for small-scale coffee farmers, their families and others in Nicaragua. One way to do this is through fair trade, especially the Equal Exchange Cooperative. As Jesus said, “…love thy neighbor as thyself.”

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