Tadesse Comes to Town

We just finished a great visit here with Tadesse Meskela, Manager of the Oromia Cooperative in Ethiopia. I have known Tadesse since early 2003, when I was the first US Fair Trader to visit Oromia, and helped bring back the first Ethiopian Organic/Fair Trade coffee into the USA. Since that time, Tadesse and I have spent much time together in the US and in hyperspace, navigating the twists and turns of Fair Trade commerce, and designing well projects and other development priorities for his coop members.

Tadesse came to my house with his daughter, Fikir, who is 14 and had never left her country or traveled in an airplane before ("Daddy", she said after the ten hour flight, "next time, can we walk to America?"). We helped Fikir get her visa in record time, sponsoring her trip. Tadesse said that when he mentioned Dean's Beans at the American Embassy, they gave her a visa on the spot (either there was a very aware visa officer, or a massive case of mistaken identity). Tadesse left Fikir with my family and jetted off to Costa Rica for a big international gathering of farmers to talk about what works and what doesn't in Fair Trade for them. One of the most important and least known aspects of Fair Trade is how much is has empowered farmers to identify and stand up with a common voice for what they need and want. This was unheard of five years ago!

Fikir spent two days in high school and middle school, where she was deluged with questions by the students and the teachers. She was amazed to be in World Civilizations class with my daughter Aliya, in front of Ms. Gloria Davis, a tough, strong, hip, flashily dressed and gorgeous African American middle school teacher. Like many students before her, Fikir said that Ms. Davis was a role model to her.

Fikir's visit was also an occasion to move a new program here at Dean's Beans forward. We are working with several private high schools (and hopefully colleges!) to admit and give full scholarships to coffee farmers kids. This is another way we manifest our belief in a deeper level of Fair Trade. We are working on Fikir's placement along with two kids from Papua-New Guinea for next September. If any of you out there are in a position to help network this project, let me know, nobody else is doing it and it will mean the world, literally, to these kids. (On a related note, the first woman to receive a loan in Peru through our women's loan program at Pangoa Coop used her loan to pay the tuition for her son to go to college - the first kid from the coop to attend a university!).

We also went to the Human Body exhibit at the Museum of Science, played mini-golf and raced around a go-cart track. Hey, Fair Traders don't have to be somber all the time!

Tadesse and I also planned my visit to Oromia in early November. We will be celebrating our Miriam's Well project, inaugurating our new reforestation/alternative income project, and visiting with old friends in the fields of Yrgacheffe, Harar and Sidamo. We'll keep you updated.

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