“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″
BRETHREN WITNESS/WASHINGTON OFFICE JOINS DELEGATION TO MEXICO
(Feb. 21, 2008) — Brethren Witness/Washington Office staff were part of an early February delegation to Chiapas, Mexico, to explore fair and free trade issues of the region. Equal Exchange, Jubilee USA, and Witness for Peace were coordinating partners for this trip.
Phil Jones, director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, and Rianna Barrett, legislative associate and a Brethren Volunteer Service worker, took part in the delegation. The office is an active partner with Equal Exchange in an interfaith program that sponsors the fair trade Brethren Coffee Project. Jubilee USA and the Brethren Witness/Washington Office also have worked cooperatively together on issues of debt relief for many years. Witness for Peace (WFP), is a politically independent, nationwide grassroots organization of people committed to nonviolence and led by faith and conscience. The office has worked with Witness for Peace, which acted as the on-the-ground host in Mexico, on a number of related advocacy issues pertaining to Central and Latin America.
Other members of the delegation included four high school Spanish students, their teacher, and his mother from Montana; United Church of Christ representatives from Atlanta, Ga.; staff of Jubilee USA, Witness for Peace, and Equal Exchange; a financial planner from California; and an active retired couple from Oregon. The diversity and wide perspective of this group led to a deep and reflective dialogue around the many issues of justice that were encountered.
The group was challenged by the many sites visited, and heard from groups such as International Service for Peace (S!Paz) and the Center for Economic and Political Research and Community Action. Through these meetings and others, delegation members began to see and sense the history of the people of southern Mexico, the struggles they face, and the movements and organizations working to address the many issues of injustice that confront them.
The delegation also had opportunity to see first-hand the realities of coffee production by small community farmers as they visited an indigenous village in the Simojovel Allende region. Here they were graciously hosted in homes by villagers and invited to learn about the many laborious duties of growing organic, fair-trade coffee. The delegation came away with a greater appreciation for that fresh cup of Equal Exchange coffee each morning, and with a deeper concern for the unfair and inadequate compensation of these indigenous producers.
The group later visited the warehouse and processing facilities of fairly traded coffee in Mexico and had opportunity to explore more fully the cooperative relationship they hold with local producers. The cooperative they visited, CIRSA, is a major supplier of organic coffee for Equal Exchange.
Throughout the trip, participants delved deeper into free-trade issues and structural agreements, such as the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and how to become stronger voices of justice and advocacy on behalf of the growers of Mexico. This trip helped the Brethren Witness/Washington Office lay groundwork for future partnerships with these organizations, plan future delegations for Brethren members and congregations, and gain a clearer picture of the advocacy work needed to be done.
Those congregations that do not currently participate in the Brethren Witness Coffee Project are encouraged to consider joining in this fair trade effort. To learn more about fair or free trade issues please contact the Brethren Witness/Washington Office. The office will provide information and also has speakers and resources available for gatherings. In addition, the office is planning a Faith Expedition to Mexico in early 2009, those who are interested in participating are invited to contact the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, 800-785-3246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Phil Jones is director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, which is a ministry of the Church of the Brethren General Board.
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