Hispanic immigrants, free trade coffee and my church - your opinion wanted

As some of you may know from my past posts, I am a Christian who has become disillusioned with the conservative party. Well, disillusioned with politics as a whole really. I have been really searching my soul and trying to find a way I can live and make a difference in the lives of others using the teachings of Jesus as my guide. I have been thinking about a lot of things, and the semblance of a plan is forming.

Local immigrants - I live in central Virginia and we have, as most metropolitan areas, been inundated with Hispanic immigrants. They are not going away and they are performing a lot of important jobs in our communities. I think we need to get to know these folks, embrace them and love them. Welcome them completely into our community. I think this is wholely in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, and the last thing we want is two individual communities living side by side who don’t know or have any investment with each other. We have ESL (English as a Second Language)classes at my church to help people of MANY nationalities learn English, but we are beginning a SSL (Spanish as as Second Language) curriculum soon, so we can reach out to them on their terms also.

Fair Trade - Without going into a lot of the details, the coffee industry gives the people who live and work where the coffee is grown a bum deal. When the price of coffee is high, the coffee makers pay the farmers the same thing. When the price of coffee is low, they lay off workers or close farms. The people in these regions do not have a lot of other options and the result is often abject poverty. In some areas there is drug crops to work for until the coffee comes back. Fair Trade coffee is coffee purchased directly from the farmers who own the land. The farmers do well when the price of coffee goes up, and have to struggle like everyone else when the price of coffee goes down. But it is fair, and offers the locals a more stable work environment that allows them to participate in the boons and busts of the markets. The price is 50% to 75% more than Maxwell House, but that savings you are really squeezing out of the sweat of a worker who you will never see and never know.
We send groups of workers from our community to work on Fair Trade coffee farms for 2 weeks at a time. They are completely immersed in the Spanish language for the entire time, which I think is a great way to learn the language. We get to know and fellowship with the people there. We bring back our stories to our church and encourage them to buy free trade coffee from this farm not because it is the right thing to do, but because it will help Pablo and Maria and Mr. Sanchez (REAL people) feed their family and have access to decent medical care. It will not be an abstract concept, but a concrete plan to help people we know and care for.

The people who come back will have better Spanish language skills and real world experience from Latin America to share with our local Latino population. Our church has a chapel we no longer use and I would love to see it filled with our Latino friends, then after both churches let out I would love to see knots of men and women lingering out front trying to fellowship and get to know each other is broken English and bad Spanish.

This plan allows us to go to them not as the rich of the 1st world coming to give them our largesse. We will not be The blessed helping the oppressed. We will be equals, trading our labor for the opportunity to learn their language so we can go back and minister to our own community.

So that is the big picture. I have no details yet. Today I plan to go to the local stores that sell 2nd and 3rd world goods that directly profits the local villages that make them and ask them if they have any contacts in coffee growing areas. I also plan to try to find information about individual fair trade farms, and possibly contact them directly.

So what are yout thoughts and suggestions? Please be very honest if you see things that concern you. If you have any information or sources of information that may be of assistance, please fire away! I am looking for help shaping this concept as I take it from idea to reality.

My church sells Fair Trade coffee, and I never knew this was how it worked. I was under the impression that the farmers and workers received a “fair wage” for working and a fair market value for the coffee beans, no matter how the market was doing. I thought the workers weren’t laid off, and received benefits like health care and decent housing.

You’re right, the coffee is quite pricey, about $8 a pound, about the same as Starbucks or Peets in the grocery store. And quite frankly, it’s not very good. They hawk it between services at my church, and I believe you can buy it during the week in the church office. It’s also available at the Ten Thousand Villages store in downtown Baltimore. I’ve been more or less coerced (shamed?) into buying it a few times, but no more. As I said, it’s not that good, and I don’t think the packs are always full pounds. When I looked at them one time, they seemed to noticabley vary in weight. I picked one that seemed fuller than the others.

There are certain safety nets in place, but no guarantees. But like I said, this isn’t really about the politics of coffee.

I think it sounds like a great plan, but there are a few things to think about…

Mostly, arn’t the people involved in fair trade coffee already relatively “hooked up”? There are a million programs that can use some help in the area that involve people that don’t already have land and a decent living. You can do a lot with two weeks and the cost of plane tickets and vaccines. Your plan seems high on the “feel good” scale, but may not be doing all that it can on the “do good” scale.

Point well taken. Again, this is a work in progres and I DO want your opinions.

I just visited a store in my community that is faith based. They purchase art, textiles, clothing etc. from indiginous peoples and sell sthem them send them a fair share of the proceeds. They have a program where they build brick ovens in Mayan homes in the Guatemalan highlands. The number one cause of child mortality in the highlands is upper respiratory infections from the smoke of open-pit fires in the home. Another issue is mudslides from the vast amounts of wood it takes to keep an open fire going all day. By helping them build the ovens you reduce the illness causing particulates in the air, reduce the amount of wood treated and free up much of the time fo the women who are responsible for the cooking. They also educate them and help them plant trees on mudslide-prone slopes to prevent the slides. I am thinking of having them come speak to my church to gauge interest and opportunities.