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The Ethical Bean
Coffee Kids: Expanding Our Frontiers
Author: Bill Fishbein
Posted: December 12, 2006
Article rating: 4.5
feedback: (0) comments | read | write

Coffee Kids has helped thousands of coffee-farming families in Latin America to improve the quality of their lives and build more sustainable communities. Founded by coffee roaster Bill Fishbein in 1988, Coffee Kids is an international nonprofit organization that partners with local non-governmental organizations in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica to create programs promoting education, health care, economic diversity, and other community-based initiatives for coffee farmers and their families. Our projects respect the cultural integrity of our local partners, foster independence, and promote long-term self-sufficiency.

This year Coffee Kids is expanding its reach into South America through a new collaboration with the Organization of Agrarian Coffee Cooperatives of Peru (COCLA), one of the most prominent coffee cooperatives in Peru. Coffee Kids is working in partnership with COCLA to support a health care program serving the coffee-growing community of San Fernando in the province of Vilcabamba, Peru.


Over the past few years, Coffee Kids has learned about COCLA's philosophy and activities by meeting and talking with COCLA representatives at the annual Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) conference. As the two organizations got to know each other, we discovered that our mutual respect, shared values, and common goals made us natural partners. Thanks to our donors' support, Coffee Kids has been able to take on three new partners this year, one of which is COCLA. We begin our new collaboration in December 2006.

Peru is the 10th largest coffee producer in the world. Over one million Peruvians are currently involved in the production, transport, processing, and export of coffee. As is the case for most small-scale coffee producers around the world, coffee is their only viable cash crop. COCLA members produce smaller amounts of plantain, pakay shade trees, and cocoa to supplement their income, but they remain economically dependent on coffee as their primary source of income.

COCLA is a cooperative that functions as an umbrella organization providing commercialization, marketing, and other services for its members. The cooperative is comprised of 8,500 farmers organized in 25 local co-ops, associations and grower committees. The average family farms on about five acres of land. COCLA was founded in 1967 but, like many coffee cooperatives at the time, suffered a decline in the late '80s and early '90s when coffee prices were unstable. Since then, COCLA has made internal changes, renewed training programs for staff and members, and developed new production models that have placed them in a much better position in the international market. COCLA participates in the annual SCAA conference, where they promote their best gourmet, organic, and fair trade coffees, and where they also participate actively in the educational sessions and panels organized by the SCAA.

Apart from their role in the production and commercialization of coffee, COCLA also supports community initiatives in their effort to improve quality of life for their member families. Coffee Kids learned about the San Fernando health care project during an interview with COCLA's general manager, Raul del Aguila, at the SCAA conference last May.

About the San Fernando Health Care Project

The coffee-growing community of San Fernando in Vilcabamba views adequate health care as one of their most pressing needs. Poverty, exclusion, geographical isolation, and extremely limited health education are a bitter reality for the more than 3,000 indigenous families living in the province. Women and children die every year from complications during childbirth or from chronic gastrointestinal or respiratory illnesses that could be easily prevented with basic medical knowledge and attention.

When people get sick in Vilcabamba, they traditionally visit a curandera (healer), either because the curanderas are their most immediate health care resource or because they aren't aware of the limited medical services provided by the state. As is so often the case with isolated rural areas, the government dedicates very few public health services to the region. To make matters worse, government outreach regarding the services they do provide is very limited. As a result, communities often remain unaware of the few government resources that are within their reach.

In an effort to help meet the tremendous need for health services and education, several cooperatives that are part of COCLA's membership have initiated health care projects in their communities. Until now, these projects have operated without the benefit of outside funding, using funds the individual cooperatives are able to set aside for them supplemented with support from COCLA wherever possible. Due to the unpredictability of their funding, many of these projects are unstable and lack continuity; like any community initiative, without sufficient resources they remain limited in their development.

The San Fernando project is a case in point. In 2005, local leaders, frustrated with the inefficiency and limitations of local public health services, began envisioning a more comprehensive community-based program. They were unable to make their vision a reality at the time due to lack of resources, but they set about learning as much as they could, looking to more established projects in other communities with the goal of eventually replicating their success in San Fernando.

With funding from Coffee Kids and continued support from COCLA, the San Fernando cooperative is finally able to stabilize and expand their health care project starting in December 2006. In the coming year, project organizers hope to reach 345 families or a total of over 1,500 people. The cooperative has identified several project goals, the first of which is to teach community members the importance of preventive care in protecting their families' health. They also want to organize the community in order to maximize access to the few public health services that are currently provided by the government. Finally, they plan to advocate for more public health resources for their region.

In order to reach these goals, project planners will train and organize seven groups of health promoters, organize a board whose role is to represent the community's interests with regard to health and advocate for more government public health services in the region, and develop a permanent plan for preventive health education in the community. In the future, the cooperative also hopes to open a local health office dedicated to preventive health care that can also serve as a link to government health services. After gaining the necessary experience and knowledge through the San Fernando project, COCLA hopes to obtain additional funding and expand the project into other communities. Coffee Kids looks forward to visiting San Fernando in the spring of 2007 in order to learn more about the project and its development first-hand from organizers and participants.

More About Coffee Kids

Coffee Kids works with eleven partner organizations in Latin America, of which COCLA is one. Coffee Kids supports projects in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and now Peru. These projects fall into four main categories:  health care, education, community-based projects, and economic diversity. The projects are as varied as the needs and priorities of the communities in which they are based. We support scholarship programs, projects training health promoters in traditional medicine, women's microcredit groups, adult literacy, community training centers, edible mushroom cultivation, and leadership development programs, to name a few of the projects our partners currently operate.

At Coffee Kids, we believe our success lies in building partnerships with local organizations that can identify their communities' most pressing problems and implement their own long-term solutions. Our partnerships are based on trust, transparency, and a deep respect for cultural values and community priorities. By collaborating with local organizations, creating networks of mutual support between them, and providing funding for their projects, Coffee Kids helps coffee-farming communities turn their hopes and visions into realities.

To learn more about Coffee Kids and our work, please visit www.coffeekids.org.

Article rating: 4.5
Author: Bill Fishbein
Posted: December 12, 2006
feedback: (0) comments | read | write
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Coffee, being the second biggest traded commodity on the planet, influences a lot of lives and a lot of the earth's land mass. Unfortunately, not all is rosy in this world and with these people. Each new Ethical Bean article will focus on ethics in coffee, bringing you the good and the bad in the world revolving around the bean.

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