From the Source: Coffee Plantation Interviews

Hey, hey! After days of rain and rescheduling, we were able interview two daily coffee plantation workers, and one supervisor at Cyimbili last week. The interviews took a couple of hours, and our plan was to go on home visits after the interviews to get a glimpse of the personal lives and families of these three, but the homes are 30 minute hikes in different directions, and the rains started shortly after the interviews. Soon, everyone says. Soon, like, when the rain stops, we’ll move.  It’s been five hours and we have not moved.

*We did finally move three days later. Pictures of these visits are here, and stories from the hike are here.

The interviews were interesting, as all three represented different experiences, families and interests.

Interview 1The first was a widowed grandma who cares for several nephews and grandchildren (nine total, I think) and is the primary earner for her family on $1.50 USD per day, loads higher than any other job in the area. She has been widowed for 15 years, and with her earnings, she pays school fees for several of the kids, maintains the home and food supply, and retains health insurance for the family at the clinic in Cyimbili.  She has many friends in the plantation because of working together every day, and reports before attending the required devotions as a plantation worker, she used to steal firewood and coffee. She says, smiling, the devotions have helped to change her heart and hear God’s words about how to behave.

Interview 2

The second was a married supervisor who has been praying for kids for 15 years. FIFTEEN YEARS! The social and spiritual views on infertility are not good, though we were able to offer each other peace and truth. Instant bond, he and Jeff and I, and I am happy to pray for them, as they report they are happy to pray for us.  With his earnings, he purchased a house, a small plot of land to cultivate cassava, and has been sponsoring an orphan boy’s education for eight years. He also travels to the eldest “moms” in his family who can’t work and provides food. More on the journey to his village and my meeting with his wife here.

Interview 3The third was a 26 year-old single female who lives with her parents and 9 brothers and sisters! She, her two brothers, and her dad all work on the plantation. With her earnings, she has purchased two pigs, has put a portion in the bank, and helps maintain her household with the rest.

ALARM (in partnership with two other organizations- find the backstory here) has totally rehabilitated this plantation and transformed the local economy and community through jobs, pastoral and leadership trainings, and reconciliation efforts within the coffee plantation itself.

Right now, the plantation employs about 148 workers, and 93 are women. (The numbers fluctuate +/- 20 depending on the season.) Each worker is responsible for picking 77lbs of ripe cherries per day, though rainy season is hard, with lots of half-days scattered in due to downpours, and none of the cherries can sit overnight—they must be processed at the washing station the same day to remain fresh! Some employees pick and harvest, others wash and shell, others dry and bag. Each day, workers are divided into groups and given their tasks.

Here are some statistics that will blow your mind, when you consider all of this is done by hand: With almost 40,000 total coffee trees, The plantation averages about 928 pounds of ripe cherries per day and 27,000 pounds per month! The average amount of dried coffee produced each day is about 97 pounds, and per month is about 2,917. That’s a ton of coffee. Literally. In the rainy season, workers have the option of working six days per week for extra income, as the season yields such a huge harvest.

Over half of the women employed are widows and primary earners in their families. The three interviewed and others we visited with list the main benefits as being paid at a higher rate than others in the area, participating in daily devotions and coffee choir, and being together daily. The workers agree that by living and working together every day, and attending the morning devotions together, they “create unity with no segregation. All people are accepted here.”

Because of sand erosion, many individuals have a hard time growing their own food and rely on the coffee plantation as a source of income to be able to purchase food from surrounding village markets and cities. Before the plantation was rehabilitated, many families struggle to eat because they couldn’t maintain their own gardens, and they did not have a source of income.

Currently the plantation grows, harvests, shells, washes and separates their own coffee by various grades for packaging, but does not have the capacity to roast, market or export their coffee. Their production is also stunted by an insufficient water system for washing the cherries, and too few employees during rainy and harvest seasons.  They also hope to continue to renovate the grounds, adding sports equipment and a boat to attract area hikers and other volunteers to spend time at the guesthouse, generating additional revenue. As ALARM is able to generate funds to divert the plantation, they hope to continue its growth and impact in the community.

For more info on how you can get involved, check out ALARM and download the June issue of WND magazine.

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