…continuing my post on my top moments of 2012, here are the remaining two moments that were special because of the learnings and inspiration they brought to me and my work.
2. Learning from (and with) my labor friends
Early this year I went to Brazil and Ecuador with Erik and Kevin: two champions of farm workers rights who were generous enough to provide their experience and time to advice me and help me improve my work. Visiting coffee and flower farms and meeting farm workers with Erik and Kevin was a very educational experience. We had great discussions and reflected about the pros and cons of the work I was doing, about the benefits and limitations of what we were trying to do. This has helped me this year to try doing a better job that really brings impact to farm workers in coffee.
We met hard-working coffee farm workers in Brazil and learned about their situation and challenges. We met the great women farm workers in flower farms in Ecuador and learned about their Fair Trade journey and how they have improved their lives and the lives of their families. We also learned there are ways that we can have stronger worker voice and more significant impact for workers in coffee.
One of the most impactful experiences with my labor friends happened in April, in Portland, during the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) conference. We took advantage that we were going to have farm workers from Brazil and Ecuador to have a meeting with farm workers from the U.S. The idea was to have a conversation about the situation of farm workers in different countries, what workers are doing to improve it and how they could learn from each others’ experience. Hearing my countrywomen from Ecuador talking about their experience in Fair Trade and hearing the stories of farm workers who had migrated to the U.S. many years ago to find better opportunities humbly reminded me of my own life back in Ecuador and my own migration to this country a decade ago. Sitting with farm workers from different countries and feeling related to them in so many ways was a great moment this year.
I am very passionate about farm workers’ issues and Erik and Kevin have been source of inspiration, wisdom and advice on this. I hope 2013 will allow me to collaborate more with them and with many other labor partners so we can truly create significant impact for farm workers in coffee.
1. Getting to know my farm worker friends in Brazil
In late 2011 we audited and certified our first pilot in coffee with farm workers. The farm in Brazil has been learning with us during this process. The farm workers in this farm have been implementing Fair Trade for the first time in a coffee farm too. At the beginning of the process, most farm workers in this farm were very incredulous about the work we were doing. The whole ‘abstract’ idea that this new certification called Fair Trade was going to come to the farm not to help the farm owner but to help the farm workers was too good to be true. Workers told me straight out: “all you say sounds great but you can’t ask us to believe you”. Fair enough. I knew they were right in being incredulous about the ideas we were discussing and that only time would say. Why would they believe this Ecuadorian coming from the U.S. and speaking Portuguese with a funny accent?
Through the work we have been doing in 2012, workers elected their representatives, identified the needs they wanted to address, created a Fair Trade plan to address those needs and implemented projects to benefit their families and communities. Several workers have been able to visit the dentist and get eyeglasses for the first time in their lives; projects chosen and implemented by workers (see more info here and here).
For me, getting to know these workers and seeing how our relationship changed over time (from some distrust to actually trust) has been a remarkable experience. Last time I visited, several workers would greet me when they saw me and invited me to talk with them while they were working on the fields. They told me how the work we were doing together was improving things for the workers at the farm. I noticed how they saw me differently than when we first met.
One day, one of the human resources staff decided to leave the farm to pursue his masters’ degree. The workers really liked this guy and wanted him to stay. They were a little concerned to talk directly with the farm managers about this so they decided, that next time I would visit, they were going to ask me to help them with their request. When I visited, they gave me this letter several of them drafted asking the manager to ask the HR guy to stay. I talked with the HR guy but I knew that he had already made his mind (and that it was a good thing for him to do his masters). He left but he felt a huge honor to have been asked by the workers to stay. I felt even a greater honor to have been asked by the workers to present their case and advocate for them. I have that small letter in my desk as a reminder of a very good day and a big responsibility to those and many other farm workers in coffee in Brazil and other places.
So these are some of my top moments this year. Moments and experiences that inspired me, taught me and allowed me to do my work better. I look forward to next year and the new opportunities and challenges that 2013 will bring – assuming the world doesn’t end tomorrow 🙂
what about your top moments of 2012?