By Amanda Cooper
Colleen Bramhall recently returned from her first trip to Nicaragua. As a Coffee Community Outreach Manager, Colleen is working with coffee-farmers and our NGO partners in supply-chain communities.
“When we arrived in the Managua airport late on Sunday night we heard a big cheer from a crowd gathered outside the terminal. Kids, up past their bedtime, climbed onto shoulders to get a peek at the celebrity emerging from the building. I contemplated that perhaps the crowd had gathered to welcome my travel mate, GMCR’s own Rick Peyser, who has advocated for coffee communities for over 20 years; however, it was another kind of fighter – the Nicaraguan boxer, “El Chocolito” – who was the target of this national swooning, returning victorious from a recent bout in Mexico. Not deflated, it was quite a festive beginning to my first field trip as Coffee Community Outreach Manager for GMCR.
My role is to work with Rick to manage our grantmaking to projects that help to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged workers in our supply chain. We were travelling to Nicaragua to meet with our partners in this effort – namely, the coffee co-operatives that support farmer livelihoods and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support community well-being. Our goal was to connect with partner field staff, check in on progress and challenges, and gain first hand insight into the impacts of our interventions at the household level.
Over five days in Northern Nicaragua, we visited several projects that aim to address the issue of “food security” – basically, the ability of families to put sufficient, nutritious food on the table every day which is a big issue in coffee communities. We visited projects using different tactics to address food security like establishing family gardens, livestock, grain silos, and seed banks. Another project is
bringing water for consumption and irrigation to a community for the first time. Still another provides children of coffee workers with an educational camp during the harvest and another installed a bio-digester system to break down and re-use coffee pulp in an environmentally friendly way.
All of these projects engaged and empowered the community to address problems affecting their quality of life. Throughout the week, I heard many personal accounts of the positive impact these projects have had on individual lives, and the farmers expressed sincere gratitude for the opportunities they had been given.
Two impressions were the most salient from my first trip to origin. First, I was extremely impressed by the skills and motivation of NGO field staff who carry out transformational initiatives on behalf of the most disadvantaged in our world. I left confident that we had the right partners to pursue this important work. Second, I was moved by the dignity and kindness of the hardworking coffee farmers who warmly opened their homes and shared their stories with me. I was struck by how intertwined our lives were, even though we had never met before. As they thanked us for GMCR funding, we thanked them for their hard work and dedication to the coffee plants, cherries, and beans that eventually end up behind the GMCR label. We rely on them to supply us with high quality coffee and they rely on us to be fair buyers and to remember them as we grow – they are part of our success and we are part of theirs.”