The Democratic Republic of the Congo, aka The DRC, is today mostly seen only as huge, tropical country ravaged by decades of civil war and wide-spread violence. Strangely, the reality is both worse and better than that perception. It is worse in that few in the U.S. realize the actual scale and nature of the violence. More than 6,000,000 have been killed in the DRC since 1995, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, most often as a tool of war and intimidation by both sides of the fighting. It’s estimated that one woman is raped every minute in the DRC. Unfortunately the fighting and the sexual violence upon women and girls continues today, and it is most common around Lake Kivu, on the DRC’s eastern border with Rwanda.
But the reality is also a little better than the headlines because there are wonderful organizations that are trying to turn things around. For example, there is the small, but growing SOPACDI co-operative of organic coffee farmers just north of Lake Kivu. They are trying to make a sustainable, peacable livelihood amongst the ongoing strife. Long ago the DRC had a substantial coffee sector, but it fell into ruins during the long years of war. SOPACDI is trying to rejuvanate their local coffee economy, and to once again make a name for fine Congolese coffee on the world market. More than 15 percent of the members are women, many of whom are widows whose husbands died trying to smuggle and barter coffee across the lake to Rwanda.
Therefore, the FIRST element of the Equal Exchange Coffee Congo Project is, of course, to work with the farmers of SOPACDI to present their harvest at its best to the US coffee drinking public. All the farms are between 4,900 and 6,560 feet. About 50 percent of the co-op’s coffee, primarily Bourbon, is processed at the central washing station. The coffee goes through a Rwandan-style fermentation-and-washing process that ends on raised African drying beds. Our Quality Control Manager, Beth Ann Caspersen, not only led the creation of this project, but has traveled to SOPACDI to provide technical assistance.
A second component of our project is to raise badly needed funds for The Panzi Foundation, who operates the Panzi Hospital and its “Maison Dorcas” aftercare program for women in the town of Bukavu, just south of Lake Kivu. This hospital is specifically to treat female victims of sexual violence, and is the only facility of its kind in the DRC. A key objective of Maison Dorcas is to help women heal from the trauma of rape, and also to provide skills and training applicable to their lives and traditions. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of the women treated for sexual violence at the Panzi Hospital go to Maison Dorcas, which provides extended shelter, literacy and skills training, and trauma treatment for women and their children who often have no place else to go. Our contributions are used to train women in weaving and making soymilk, bread/binets and fruit juice. These programs are being expanded this year.
The third component of the Congo Coffee Project is to raise awareness about the reality facing farmers and women in the Eastern Congo, and about programs that are making a real difference in those communities.
(Note: Equal Exchange & SOPACDI are both indebted for the work of TWIN Trading in the UK, who has been vital to both our organizations efforts described here).
Who Benefits from this project?
Hundreds and hundreds of people in the Eastern Congo benefit directly from the Congo Coffee Project, and many more thousands benefit indirectly.
The small-scale organic farmers of SOPACDI benefit from Equal Exchange’s Fair Trade purchases of their coffee. They benefit from Beth Ann’s assistance with the quality control program and recruitment of qualified cuppers. They benefit from our efforts to introduce them to the broader coffee industry.
Tens of thousands of other small coffee farmers in the DRC benefit from our efforts to raise the profile of specialty grade and organic coffees from their country.
The Panzi Hospital is a 450 bed facility in a city of one million people and provides life-saving treatment, counseling, and aftercare programs to more than 2,000 survivors of sexual violence each year. In 2012 it also delivered over 3,400 babies, and treated approximately 500 children for malnutrition.
It is one of the few centers in the region to provide treatment and support for HIV/AIDS. It is also one of the few medical centers in the DRC that does not require payment before providing emergency care.
Approximately 40 to 60 percent of the women treated for sexual violence go to the hospital’s “Maison Dorcas” aftercare program, which provides extended shelter, literacy and skills training, and trauma treatment for women and their children who often have no place else to go. Woven bags produced by the recovering patients will be sold via the Equal Exchange website.
In 2012 Equal Exchange raised $16,138 for the Maison Dorcas program, all earned through the sales of Congo Coffee Project coffee.
How Can I Help?
You can help by:
• Buy, sell, & serve the organic, Fair Trade coffee from the Equal Exchange Congo Coffee project.
Every sale means more revenues for the SOPACDI farmer co-op and a step towards rejuvenating the Congolese coffee economy.
Plus every 1 lb bag bought at wholesale generates a $1 donation to the Panzi Foundation, to help support the critical Panzi hospital in the DRC.
Every bag bought at retail ($12) via our online store generates a $2 donation to the Panzi Foundation.
• Purchasing of the woven bags produced by the women engaged in the Maison Dorcas program. Later this year they will be available via our online store http://shop.equalexchange.coop/
• Spreading the word and raising awareness about the troubles in the DR Congo, and these great efforts to create a new future for the Congolese
Congo Coffee Project:
The Panzi Foundation:
Women for Women International:
Contact Name: Rodney North
Web Site: www.EqualExchange.coop
Location: West Bridgewater, MA, 02379
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone Number: 774.776.7398