Fatima Aziz Faraji-Tanzania, Mbula Kaluki Musau- Kenya, Phyllis Johnson-IWCA, Immy Abine Numutako Kamarade-Rwanda and Angele Ciza-Burndi stand in front of the White House following their tour.
Let’s begin with the Wikipedia Definitions…
Frankenstorm--the nickname for Hurricane Sandy, a tropical cyclone of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season that severely affected portions of the Northeastern United States in late October.
Pee Wee Herman--a comical and controversial childlike fictional character.
Duct Tape--cloth or scrim-backed pressure sensitive tape often coated with polyethylene.
Four Amazing African Women--not yet defined in Wikipedia, but will be soon, I am sure.
NPR--a privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization that serves as a national syndicator to a network of 900 public radio stations in the United States, producing and distributing news and cultural programming.
The Plan: The International Women’s Coffee Alliance* (IWCA), in conjunction with the International Trade Center and UKaid, hosted the “US & Mexico Tour for Women Leaders in Coffee”, October 28-November 8. Four women in coffee from African regions were invited to the US and Mexico providing the opportunity for the IWCA to learn more about their challenges and connect them with helpful resources and networks in the coffee supply chain. A well planned itinerary included three days in New York City, four days in our Nation’s Capitol, and four days in Mexico City.
The Problem: The African delegation arrived in New York City on Sunday, October 28, the exact day that Frankenstorm made her aggressive appearance. As representatives of the IWCA, Phyllis Johnson of DB Imports and I were to welcome the ladies for their tour of New York. Frankenstorm, however, had other plans. Neither Phyllis nor I could make it to the city. Our African delegation landed in New York City and was greeted by the storm.
Plan B: When life gets challenging, rely on your networks. Phyllis and I reached out to people we knew in NYC. We found a driver to escort the ladies and friends to take them to dinner. We were forced to cancel the rest of our NYC itinerary, but rebooked our flights and planned to meet the delegation when they arrived in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday morning.
Plan C: Due to extreme storm damage, the train wasn’t operating between NYC and DC. Again, we called in reinforcements. Our driver agreed to take the ladies on the long six hour journey to DC. I was able to get to Washington in time to meet the travelers as they arrived at the Embassy Suites. It was Halloween and as luck would have it, the hotel front desk clerk was dressed as Pee Wee Herman. I couldn’t help but wonder what our guests’ impressions of the US were at this point…Three days surviving Frankenstorm and now Pee Wee Herman greeting them in our Nation’s Capitol!
Duct Tape: With the storm passed, we could finally begin to show the delegation some points of interest. As guests of Congressman Aaron Schock, the ladies received a private tour of the Capitol. They were fascinated by the history of the building and the complexity of the underground tunnel system that allowed for easy navigation around the massive structure. I was intrigued to learn how much the women knew about US history. As we posed for photos in the rotunda, they were amused to learn that the press uses duct tape to mark the best places to stand for news interviews to ensure a great background on camera. Simple but effective!
Four Amazing African Women: Our week continued with a tour of the White House, the Capitol and the National Mall. The women commented on what an honor it was for them to see these historic US landmarks. “It is an honor to tour the US Capitol and the White House. We have been able to do something that many politicians in our country will never be able to do. It gives us hope,”said Mbula Kaluki Musau from Kenya.
The Importance of One Cow: The delegation was invited to meet with Vital Voices, an organization that provides training and mentoring to innovative women leaders, enhancing their ability to transform lives and advance peace and prosperity in their communities. The work that Vital Voices is doing closely aligns with the work being done by the IWCA. It was fascinating to hear each of our delegates describe the challenges the women in their countries face in their work in coffee: no access to financing, inability to own land, lack of education and training, domestic violence, hunger and poverty. Immy Abine Numutako Kamrade from Rwanda explained to the Vital Voices team the difference one cow can make in the life of a woman coffee farmer. “One cow can provide milk for her family, produce fertilizer for the coffee plants and produce biogas to generate light and heat for cooking. If we have light, our children can read and study after dark.”
NPR: A highlight of the trip was an invitation to be interviewed by Allison Aubrey, NPR News Correspondent covering food and health. Dressed in traditional African clothing, the delegation spoke with pride as they described their work in Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda. Ms. Aubrey listened with intent as the women talked about their goals of empowering others in their communities and their desire to eradicate poverty for future generations. “Do not think we want to step on men for the way that we are sometimes treated. We want equality to make life better in our communities,” explained Fatima Aziz Faraji of Tanzania.
*IWCA empowers women in the international coffee community to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives; and encourages and recognizes the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry.
Members of the the African Delegation and IWCA volunteers prepare for an interview at NPR.