Griselda meets coffee pickers in El Salvador

This is a guest post shared by Griselda Barraza.  Griselda is my colleague at Fair Trade USA and she recently visited one of the coffee farms interested in participating in our pilots.

During the holiday break, I went to El Salvador to visit my family.  I took one day to visit a coffee farm in El Salvador that is interested in participating in our work to understand how we could bring the benefits of Fair Trade to coffee pickers and other farm workers in coffee.

It was my opportunity to see, first hand and for the first time, how coffee is grown and picked. I also could finally put together the faces of hard working people and the landscapes of coffee fields behind the work I do at Fair Trade USA from the office in Oakland, CA.

Once I arrived at the farm, I admired the magnificent view. I was first welcomed by beautiful coffee trees. The climate made the walk through the farm very pleasant and the workers greeted me with smiles on their faces.  The first coffee workers I met were two generations of women who were picking coffee beans from 6 am to 3pm.  The third generation was enjoying the work, sitting on top of the “canasto” basket which is used to put all the picked coffee to be weighed at the end of the day.   They talked to me about their expectations for a better future. I explained the concept of Fair Trade to them and they were happy to hear about our aspirations for more women empowerment.

3 generations of women 'picking coffee'

3 generations of women ‘picking coffee’

I heard the stories of many workers; all of the workers have a story to tell. I heard the need for Fair Trade in their lives.  I saw kids who need better opportunities; I also saw the challenges but I did not see the word “impossible” in their future.

I talked to Francisco, another coffee picker on the farm, who told me that he usually picks about 280 lbs of coffee cherries a day.  His twelve year old son helps him during school vacation.  Together they can pick 520 lbs.  Francisco’s daughter attends preschool during school season. “Life is not easy here” said Sonia, Francisco’s wife, who hopes one day to have her own house.

"Life is not easy here" said Sonia.  She hopes one day to have her own home

“Life is not easy here” said Sonia. She hopes one day to have her own home

There is one school in the farm for kids between the grades of one to six and a day care for kids two to five years old.  Many farm workers choose not to send their kids to school, since they need those additional sets of hands to pick coffee. “One of the challenges faced by kids at the farm once they reached their sixth grade is to go to another school that offers higher education” said one of the capataces (a foreman) at the farm. A junior high school is about 6 miles away and kids need to walk there.

After meeting so many wonderful, hard working people, I left El Salvador inspired by every farm worker I met.  These are the hard working people who harvest the coffee that we drink in the U.S.  I also see how Fair Trade could help these workers and their families.  Fair Trade could bring community development funds to make sure the kids have closer and better schools to attend.  It could bring more income so workers can send their kids to school and still make enough to feed their families.  It could help improving the houses where the workers live. And it could even, in the longer term, help these workers to own their own houses as they aspire and as other farm workers in Fair Trade have already done.

We tend to forget that there are people out there, people like us, who need basic things to live and who work very hard every day to feed their families. This visit reminded me that every man, woman and child I met on this coffee farm, as well as all other coffee farm workers around the world, deserve a better life. I’m happy to know that Fair Trade is aiming to help coffee workers and I’m also very fortunate to be part of the group working on this initiative.

I was touched by every story I heard. I will not forget that behind each story there is a real person, and there are real needs and hopes for a better future.

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