Introduction: Out of Adversity, Community

Written by Cafe Campesino on Mar 1, 2007 in Editorial, Introduction, NEWSLETTER |
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As readers of last month’s Fair Grounds may remember, Bill and I had been planning on filing a joint trip report on our recent visits to CAC Pangoa in Peru and Fondo Paez in Colombia in this edition of the newsletter. A lot has changed though since our last newsletter went out and as a result we’re going to save Bill’s Colombia trip report for April and focus instead on our visit (Tripp and Bill’s) to Peru. You may be scratching your head right now, wiping the driblet of coffee from your chin and saying OK, what’s the big deal?

Sumter Regional Hospital after the tornado hit

Well, on Thursday, March 1st, at around 9:30 PM or so, an F3 tornado touched down on the southwest side of Americus and hop-scotched its way across town, devastating a large swath of our city along the way, until it finally left town via Route 49 – the northeast spoke out of town. While Café Campesino and our staff made it through unscathed, not everyone was as fortunate. Authorities say the tornado traveled 38 miles from start to finish and was one mile wide when it passed through town. Sadly, two folks lost their lives, dozens were injured, and literally hundreds of homes were destroyed. Sumter Regional Hospital, along with our Winn Dixie supermarket and numerous other businesses were also destroyed. Families have been displaced, jobs have been lost and the landscape of this beautiful “city on a hill” scarred and forever altered.

Despite this tremendous blow to our small town of 17,000, we have witnessed a truly extraordinary, awe-inspiring outpouring of support from folks both within and outside of our community. Local police, fire, and rescue were joined by their peers from all over Georgia and some as far away as Florida and Alabama to help those who had been injured, restore order, and pave the way for rebuilding. Our local, county and state governments sprang into action to coordinate relief efforts and inform the public. Georgia Power hit the streets, restoring electricity at nothing short of a heroic pace. Contractors from both near and far pitched in to help with the cleanup and restore basic infrastructure. One contractor came in from Alabama to help with the clean up of the hospital grounds — completing what had been scheduled to take three weeks in just one weekend.

Meanwhile, neighbors came together to help each other and strangers alike as non-profit groups and other disaster relief organizations streamed into town to lend a hand. Volunteers assembled to “tarp” damaged roofs, cut up fallen trees, and provide food and shelter… and although fifteen days have passed since the tornado touched down in Americus, folks continue to arrive, asking how they can help. How fortunate we are.

On behalf of all of us here at Café Campesino, we heartily thank everyone who has come to our town’s aid.

Coop member Rodrigo Nahui explains his cultivation techniques to Tripp

As Fair Traders, we often tend to seek a better understanding of who we are and what we are experiencing by reflecting on our friendships with our producer partners, our limited understanding of their day-to-day lives, and the relevance of our lives to theirs (and visa versa). Bill and I agree that our recent visit with our friends at CAC Pangoa in Peru puts Americus’ recent traumatic experience into context best. Why? Because unlike us, our friends at CAC Peru and their neighbors have to deal with frequent natural and man-made disasters on their own, with little or no help from their government or local private sector. Because our friends at CAC Pangoa overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to produce and deliver wickedly great Fair Trade, organic coffee despite inadequate if not altogether lacking infrastructure. Because on top of laboring to provide for themselves, the members of CAC Pangoa contribute day-in and day-out to improving the quality of life for their members and surrounding community. Because the members of CAC Pangoa have learned to do something that we seem unable or unwilling to do unless challenged by adversity: live with an appreciation for each other and harness the true power of community.

Caring about the well-being of others and acting on that concern are what create community. A strong sense of community, in turn, drives our ability not only to overcome adversity but to impact positively the well-being of others. Our friends at CAC Pangoa are brilliant examples of what is possible when individuals come together to work as a community every day, not only when challenges emerge.

The challenge that Americus faces in the wake of the recent natural disaster is the same that plagues our global community: How do we sustain a sense of community without requiring the impetus of a crisis? I’m confident that the answer lies with our producer partners at CAC Pangoa and elsewhere throughout the coffee lands.

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