Delicious peace: A story from across the world in Africa
Published 8:56 am Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I have reached my first home stay and am in the outskirts of the town of Mbale, Uganda.
My seven female students are staying in a small, mud-brick home next door, and my co-leader, Aleta, and I are staying in J.J. Keiki’s home.
J.J. has been very active in his village and was elected “chairperson” of the Nomanyoni sub-county as a Jewish minority in 2000 in a predominantly Muslim county. Outside of local politics, like the majority of the population, he is a coffee farmer and great guitarist who began a Fair Trade coffee cooperative.
Prior to the formation of Mirembe Kawomera Coffee Cooperative in 2004, their community of third- and fourth-generation farmers struggled to make a living selling their green coffee beans in the local market.
Mirembe Kawomera means “Delicious Peace” in Lugandan, but this incredible co-op was inspired by the experiences of a tragic day in our world’s history.
On Sept. 11, 2001, J.J. was planning on touring the World Trade Center with his brother, who was studying to become a rabbi. J.J. was in the United States for the first time because “Kulanu”, a Jewish organization, which means “all of us” in Hebrew, sponsored him to go to talk in the states about his Jewish community in Uganda.
This is a unique sect of Judaism that began in 1919 by Shimei Kakungula because of his interpretations of the Bible. J.J.’s grandfather was a friend of Shimei’s and converted to Judaism with him, and he and his family remain in the minority in Mbale.
After stepping out of the subway to visit the center of the world’s economy, he saw the first plane strike the tower. At that point, no one had any idea what had just transpired, but when J.J. understood that it was an act of religious war, he was inspired to create a place of religious tolerance through “interfaith.”
He returned home and began Mirembe Kawomera, which has grown to more than 1,000 farmers representing the Muslim, Christian and Jewish religions. Throughout the history of Mbale, there has been religious tension in the area, but 9-11 created so many positive things in this village.
Now, Mirembe Kawomera is a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic, Fair Trade co-op that supports more than a thousand families in this mountainous region in Uganda.
Because of the Fair Trade status, the farmers now receive fair wages for the value of their product on the global market and are looking to expand the coffee production into vanilla and cardamom in the near future. This has provided the families an increased standard of living, including paying for their children’s school fees, bringing clean water into their homes and instilling a sense of economic empowerment.
J.J. said there are two choices in this world: “You can make enemies through differences, or you can make friendships through them.”
J.J. obviously chose the latter. He sees life from a positive viewpoint and has used the intolerance of others to inspire a world of harmony among all those who come in contact with him and his amazing project.
It truly is an honor and inspiration to be sitting under the shade of banana and mango trees in the middle of his coffee “shamba” listening to cows moo, birds chirp and his 25 biological and adopted children laugh as the sun sets on “Delicious Peace!”
Mirembe Kawomera is distributed through Thanksgiving Coffee Co. in San Francisco. Its motto is “Not Just a Cup, But A Just Cup.”
For more information about purchasing Mirembe Kawomera coffee go to www.thanksgivingcoffee.com.