Monday, January 30, 2017

More Coffee Farmers

We had a great day 2 visiting more women growing our coffee and their farms. The mountains are steep and the roads rugged. You can't imagine how they drive during the rainy season. But the views were fantastic and so nice to be out in the countryside.
This is Sue with Juanita and her daughter Yaneli. 

Juanita is married to Saul and they have 6 children ages 8-25 years old. We traveled 35 minutes up rugged roads into the mountains to arrive at their beautiful farm. Juanita is growing about 1.25 acres of organic coffee and 2.5 acres of conventional coffee. They have some cows for milk and meat and also 2 horses. They also grow some of their own corn and beans.

Juanita with some of her coffee. Her fields looked healthy and well cared for.
Juanita, Saul and two daughters and some of their grandchildren.

This is Irma. She and her husband Jobino have 6 children ages 10 yrs - 24 yrs. Both husband and wife grow coffee but keep their coffee fields separate. Their parents and grandparents grew coffee. They recently moved to new land so Irma's coffee plants are just 2 years old. Their oldest daughter is a teacher and their 23 yr old Nilsan is studying accounting at university in Huehuetenango. Irma's 21 year old son works in the coffee fields and also is a mechanic. All the family helps in the coffee fields. 

Irma first and foremost likes the money from growing the coffee. She likes working with the women's coffee growers and she participates in the classes and trainings they offer. She likes growing organic coffee because it's more healthy for her family and the environment and also she is paid a higher price. She and her husband make most of their own fertilizer from the coffee fruit ( the outside of the coffee fruit is removed and the bean is the 2 inside seeds). mixed with manure from their horses and cows. Being able to supply their own fertilizer is a cost savings also.  kids work in the coffee fields too but also are studying in school.

 Irma, her husband Jobino and Yenner Daniel 10 yrs old and in 4th grade.

These families are very busy and we were very grateful they could take the time to visit with us and answer our questions. I asked at UPC (the organization they all work with) if they have lots of visitors. They said we are one of two groups that visit. 

Irma was especially shy with us which is completely understandable. We hope to keep developing our relationship with these women and their families. This is our 5th year visiting and the women we've seen more than once seem more relaxed with us. Our hope is for our friendships and trust to grow more each year.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Visiting the Coffee Farmers

We are now in the mountains of Huehuetenango where our organic coffee is grown by women farmers. We are 12 kilometers from the Mexican border. There are 30 women in the Women's group and most are Mam Maya. They are a group within the cooperative - Association UPC. We began with meeting with four of the women growers- Orfa, Fabiana, Sonia and Maria Luz. We also met with Jacinto the head of UPC and Rolando head of operations. I'd met some of these women over the visits in last 5 years but it was nice to have more time just talking.  Though we have 3 spanish speakers in our group of travelers we got much more clear information with Matt translating.
The women are proud of their coffee and especially happy to get the higher price for their organic coffee. The talked about the importance of protecting the environment and the health of their families by growing organically. There are challenges and it's more work to grow organically but the higher price they are paid makes it worth all the effort.
Orfa, Sonia, Brenda, Fabiana and her daughter.

Matt and Jacinto.
Jacinto spoke about the work of Asociación Unión de Pequeños Caficultores (UPC) besides working with growing the best coffee and finding markets,  they are innovators of better methods to grow and process coffee. They are organized to better their lives, raise the standard of living and focus on their members health, helping kids go to school by seeking scholarships and education for all members on a variety of subjects.
With the bags of coffee: Brenda, Jody, Jacinto, Orfa,Fabiana, Sonia, Sue, Donna, Maria Luz

We then hopped into the back of a pickup for the steep winding trip up the mountains.
Maria Luz with baby showing us her coffee.
Orfa raking her coffee. The coffee dries on a cement patio for 4-5 days. The raking is done each hour helping for even drying.

Orfa has three children. 19 yrs Froidis is working on a 6 month visa in Alaska, 17 year old daughter Deris and 14 yr old Darvin. Her husband also works in the states from December - June on this 6 month visa program. He's been doing this for 16 years. You can tell she has been running this farm herself. She is definitely a leader in the Women's group. Through the organizing of the Womens group they have access to trainings and grants. She is one of the women with goats from Heifer International used for meat and milk. She also has a room on her house which has a bread making business where the women bake once a week to sell and also for their families.
Deris, Orfa and Sue. 
Sue is in charge of F2F coffee business so it's especially great to have her here meeting these women and seeing their farms and lives.
Hiking in the coffee fields, Brenda, Bob, Donna, Sue.

It's so beautiful in these mountains. It's easy to forget how hard life is for these families. It is clear they are hard working, motivated and active in taking advantage of every opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Visiting the Elder Center

We visited the Elder Center of Santiago Atitlan where they feed 58 people 3 times a week and send food home later. They were beautiful. These people have lived through the brutal repressive war against them. You can see so much experience and wisdom in their faces. We had the opportunity of helping to serve the meal. Each person got a drink, 7 tortillas (made fresh right there) and a bowl of meat, potato and broth. Many of these people don't have anyone to help them at home. This center serves a huge service to the community. There is no social safety net in Guatemala, like we have in the U.S. This reminds us how fortunate we are.
The elders waiting for their meals

 Sue and Matt with one of the elders.
Bernabella and Mari making tortillas for the elders.
One of the beautiful elders.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Santiago Atitlan Day 3

Monday 23rd of January.
We had a nice day of visiting other projects in the area. Santiago is a town with many other organizations doing great work. In the morning some of the group went to see Nino's school. Nino is a local Tz'utujil Maya and has been working at the Posada de Santiago for over 15 years. He has worked with individuals and organizations around the world to build and run a private school that runs from preschool through 2nd grade. There are 45 kids and 4 teachers. He was asking our group for some help paying for the food they serve the children at school. School starts at 7:30 am and many students arrive hungry. They serve a breakfast each morning. Sue, Allen and Brenda went with Nino to visit the school. The children were animated and very excited. They sang them a song. We pulled together about $100 to help support his project. Here's a video of the kids.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fiesta with Scholarship Families

January 22, 2017
We had a celebration with the 22 scholarship kids and their families. It was a beautiful sunny morning in Santiago Atitlan when the families arrived to the Posada where we had our gathering. Twenty five years ago, Farmer to Farmer started working with this group- The Weavers Committee.

We spent time talking about our history together, how the scholarship students have excelled and the importance of our friendship. My first visit here was 25 years ago. Many of the University students, I met when they were young and some I remember when they were born.

Brenda and Donna gave out the scholarships to the 22 students along with backpacks for all the students. We also gave the grade school and middle school students notebooks, zipper pouches and pens, We gave flash drives to the high school and university students and each family also received a calendar.

We served tacos and hibiscus drinks for everyone.
 We were asked to support another university student- Jeronimo. He has been working as a mechanic in Guatemala City, but he just lost his job. He is starting university, studying to become a math teacher. How can we say no? We'll just have to do more fund raising. Jeronimo's eldest daughter just started university this month, and his wife is studying to be mental health therapist.
The motivation of these students is extraordinary. Most students work all week and attend university on Saturdays. The families share the care of the kids, cooking and live together.

The group.

Guatemala Trip 2017

January 19, 2017
We began our trip in Antigua the beautiful spanish colonial town. Traveling are: Donna Goodlaxson, Bob Brose, Sue Gerlach, Allen Freiermuth, Matt Buetow, Brenda Betz- Stoltz and me - Jody. It's great to have 3 board members Donna, Brenda and me and also Sue our coffee business manager. I'm especially thrilled to have my son Matt along.
We traveled across the beautiful Lake Atitlan on a boat- lancha arriving at the Posada de Santiago where we'll make our home base for 4 nights.
crossing Lake Atitlan
Bob, Donna, Sue and Allen with the fabulous Delores Ratzan- tour guide. Delores showed them around Santiago Atitlan explaining the history, and Maya spirituality.
We are here to distribute the 22 scholarships to the students and to visit their families, homes and hear more about their lives.
We spent Saturday visiting scholarship kids and families in their homes. It is very humbling to see their homes, their lives and hear about how the scholarships help them attend school.
Sue visiting with Diego and his daughters Cristina and Aracely-scholarship students.

The Sicay family

Meeting on the street with members of the Weavers' Committee- the scholarship group.

Francisco and Rosa the leaders of the Committee. Lola, Nicolasa and Sheny all university students. We brought them all calendars.
These families are so generous opening their homes for us. We asked Rosa, one of the leaders of the group, what we could bring to the families when we visit. I wondered oranges or a watermelon. Rosa said corn and beans. They need the daily staples more than special foods.
The families that own their homes, the land and home were passed down from their parents and probably generations before that. Today land is so expensive that it's impossible for most families to buy. The land is divided up and more floor built up on the homes when possible to accomodate for the families growing.
I'm running off so more later.