Face to Faith Human rights video conference highlights interfaith cooperation through coffee
An empowering end to our Human Rights Day videoconferencing was a terrific conversation among three American schools and guest speaker Jenais Zarlin, the Director of Business Development for Thanksgiving Coffee Company. One of her most important roles is assisting customers in realizing their connection to the people who grow their coffee and the stories behind these farmers’ lives. This idea of story is a vital one in the Fair Trade system, as every individual has a story and when it is ignored in the name of blind consumerism, the individual is forgotten and subject to injustice.
Coffee is the second most demanded commodity next to oil, which makes it an invaluable resource for Fair Trade. The Thanksgiving Coffee Company works in nine different countries to ensure fair labor practices and to build just systems of enterprise for farmers in developing nations. Through transparent relationships with these farmers, the company is able to teach market demands which in turn allows for these cooperatives to receive the fairest price for their coffee. Perhaps most strikingly is the fact that these cooperatives are comprised of people from various faiths and political/tribal backgrounds coming together for the common good—emblematic of what the Tony Blair Faith Foundation strives to achieve around the world. Students in the conference heard about Sandinistas and Contras coming together in Nicaragua as well as Hutus and Tutsis working side by side in Rwanda. In Uganda, Jewish, Christian and Muslim farmers took an interfatih appreach to organizing their cooperative. These are the stories we need to hear and it was a privilege for these schools to be involved!
As students learned about the Thanksgiving Coffee Co. and the Fair Trade system in general, important questions began to surface. Social networking such as Facebook came up as a response to the inquiry, “How are we able to educate others about Fair Trade?” Another response to the same question suggested a short commercial prior to YouTube videos and general word of mouth around our local communities. It was impressive to watch young minds using their unique perspectives to come up with solutions--a common result of the Face to Faith program. Yet another positive result of the program resides in the questions students come up with as they think through these issues. One student from Sonoma High School in California asked if the Thanksgiving Coffee Company ever gets any pushback from governments in these regions. A perceptive question answered by Zarlin with the insight that governments often like Fair Trade because they streamline businesses, creating more exports which benefit government and producer alike. In the end, everyone gets a just share because it is a fair business. As Zarlin stated, “Our work is charitable in concept and justice in practice.”
Justice, remembering the stories of these individuals, certainly was the centerpiece of this videoconference. Jenais Zarlin repeatedly emphasized the powerful role that individual consumers play and by doing research, remembering the stories behind the commodity, we can avoid being blind consumers and instead make just change in the world.
Cory Davis, Face to Face Facilitator