When I first heard about the washing machines, I thought, “Really?” I’m so used to hearing Fair Trade farmers tell me about how they invested their community development premiums in things like healthcare programs, scholarships for kids and environmental programs. That’s why I was truly surprised when a group of flower farm workers in Cotopaxi, Ecuador, presented me with a piece of magic machinery that gives people their Sundays back.
During my visit to the farm, I asked a worker, Elsa Vasquez, why her community decided to spend their premium funds on something as simple as a washing machine. Her statement was very clear:
“I used to spend my Sundays, every single one, from 8am to 1pm down in the river washing my family’s clothes by hand. Now I spend it with my family. We go to church together. I take my children to see their grandparents. We have lunch together. I got my Sundays back!”
This made me think about the assumptions we often make about people and their needs, especially those we mean to “benefit” with development assistance, and even through Fair Trade. In this case, it was profoundly clear that nobody knew better about what the workers on this farm needed than the farm workers themselves. They simply wanted their Sundays back.
Those workers, most of them women, not only bought washing machines with the Fair Trade premiums, some of them also bought computers, paid for English classes for their kids, and spoke about their dreams of one day buying a house for their families.
Miguel Zamora is the Director of Coffee Innovation & Producer Relations at Fair Trade USA, where he is focused on creating opportunities between buyers and coffee-growing communities around the world.
Miguel began working at Fair Trade USA in early 2006 after spending several years working with small-scale farmers in agricultural production, commercialization, development, sales and research in Latin America. In Ecuador, his country of origin, Miguel worked in banana and fruit production and in sales of agricultural inputs. In Honduras, he worked with small-scale dry bean farmers in development projects after Hurricane Mitch. Miguel is currently focused on bringing the benefits of Fair Trade to farm workers and independent small-scale farmers in coffee.
If you enjoyed Miguel’s story, you can read more about his experiences working with small-scale farmers and farm workers on his blog Coffee People – la gente del cafe.
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KEYWORDS: Business & Trade, Eco-Living, Consumption & Travel, Food & Farming, People, Social Action & Community Engagement, Technology. Innovation & Solutions, Health and Wellness, Fair Trade USA, fair trade, flowers, Triple Pundit, washing machine, poverty alleviation, Homes, Women empowerment