I don’t recall when I had my first cup of coffee or when I made my first pot of coffee. I seem to remember it was about the time I had my first baby at 23; that feels about right. It certainly wasn’t a selection of sophistication, or of flavor, but more out of desperation that I turned to the dark brew of defense, to help me function in a suddenly all-too-real life. Twenty-five years, four kids, two husbands, several family dogs, cats, and chickens later, my morning shuffle to the sink to fill the coffee pot with water is like breathing. My day begins with that first sip of sanity. I never once thought about the water.
Water. Life force for the planet and its inhabitants; clear gold. It is the true leveler of all humanity. Without it, we will not survive. As the planet continues to warm, issues surrounding water become increasingly more alarming and newsworthy, because they are finally touching us in America. Harsh, but arguably true. The issues of water shortages in the Southwestern regions of the U.S. and the devastating reality of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan have us all thinking about the water we drink. We have enjoyed going to the tap and turning on water, hot or cold, for all our lives and for a handful of generations before us. Long enough to believe that water pumping into our house is a fixture just like the wall, the front door, and our foundation. We expect it to be clean, expect it to fill our pots, and we expect it to be there.
That is the ease for most of Western culture; we see access to water as a right. However, there are so many cultures in which that is simply not the case. For so many communities within the world of coffee, running water that is plumbed into the home is a far off notion of the rich. Countries that provide me with my coffee, like Guatemala, Nicaragua, Kenya, and Ethiopia struggle for clean accessible water for their homes to grow food, to drink, and to live.
Women of Water
It is often the women who bear the brunt of the global water crisis in the underdeveloped areas of the world, as they are tasked with the gathering of the family’s daily water needs. It is an all-day, exhausting, labor-intensive task that has them often making the choice between using water that may possibly be contaminated or going without water, which will result in certain death.
“Women also struggle most from the lack of adequate sanitation, the often unspoken part of the water and sanitation crisis. The sanitation crisis for women can be summed up in one word: ‘dignity.’ Around the world, fewer than one person in three has access to a toilet. In many countries, it is not acceptable for a woman to relieve herself during the day. They wait hours for nightfall, just to have privacy. This impacts health and puts their safety at risk. About half of all girls worldwide attend schools without toilets. The lack of privacy causes many girls to drop out when they reach puberty.
The dual aspects of the water crisis – lack of water and of sanitation – lock women in a cycle of poverty. They cannot attend school; they cannot earn an income.”
Making a Choice & Making a Change
Libra Coffee (www.libracoffee.com), a small coffee company in California, made the decision to connect the dots in a very real, lasting way. With each bag of coffee their customers buy, they donate money to provide high-powered water filters for the communities that they source from.
In speaking to one of the company owners, Eric Medina, we discussed balance:
“Our mission starts with our name – ‘Libra’ – meaning ‘unit of weight or balance.’ We believe balance means fairness, and that fairness means ensuring each person on our planet has basic human needs met.”
“Their lives sit in stark contrast from what we have. Food, shelter, and water…it is such a basic need, how can we not help meet it?”
Water. It covers roughly 71 percent of the planet, provides food, sustains us, and is the single ingredient that, within our coffees, connects us all. Without the conversation about and conservation of water as a basic human right, our cup may always taste just a little bitter.