Dear Friends,
Just Haiti partners with Gannon University to host their annual student immersion trip to Haiti. Students and staff support our work by selling and promoting our coffee.

Below is a fantastic reflection authored by Melia Gasparre, one of the students on last year's trip, which we wanted to share with you. We will be hosting a new group of students in Haiti next week.

"About 10 months ago, Gannon University's Alternative Break Service Trip program allowed me to experience a unique opportunity to travel to Haiti for an immersion, rather than a mission trip, thanks to Just Haiti. My experience with Just Haiti and the coffee growers of Kafe Developmen Baraderes (KDB), the Haitian coffee association, called me to question what I know about service.

Even a year later, I still think about my trip to Haiti often.

When I first arrived in Haiti, it was not difficult to see why many missionaries are attracted to the notion of helping Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. In Port-au-Prince especially, there was garbage littered throughout the streets, empty river beds revealing a lack of water, and tent cities from an earthquake that occurred 6 years ago.

Because I signed up for a "service trip," I was not prepared for the fact that I would not be doing any hands-on service as I had expected; I had fallen into the missionary's trap of believing that I could change the world in one week. One of the most powerful realizations that I had during this trip is that these coffee growers are businessmen who are just working to provide for their families, no different from how my father does. Kafe Developmen consisted of incredibly capable men and women who did not need the presence of a well-meaning college freshman like myself to dig them out of poverty.

Although I have learned a lot because of my experience, I still have many questions about how Just Haiti executes its mission and vision. Not only does Just Haiti's involvement in the coffee industry of the Baraderes region of Haiti demonstrate the ideas of accompaniment and solidarity, but it also differs significantly from the typical course of action for US-based organization.

Other mission groups tend to arrive in Haiti and execute their own plan of building schools or supplying a health clinic. However, these actions have proven to only be temporary "band-aid solutions" that last only as long as supplies remain in stock or there is money to maintain the newly constructed buildings. By acting as a partner in the coffee industry for local growers, Just Haiti is working with the growers to find long-term solutions by attacking the roots of the problem of poverty.

So if people in Haiti don't need my time spent working on a building project there and they don't need me to donate supplies, then what do you they need?

The answer is money, and not just donations because those only go so far! Just Haiti's Fair Trade Plus model encourages and supports the ability of Haitian coffee growers to support their communities for themselves. By paying higher prices produced by KDB, Just Haiti is able to compensate the growers more for their labor.

This allows the growers in KDB to decide for themselves and their community the best way to use their money. For this reason, the communities in Baraderes are able to pay a nurse to provide healthcare or for the tuition of their children. Therefore, by increasing the income to these coffee growers, Just Haiti indirectly and sustainably improves healthcare, education level, and other aspects of rural Haiti.

Traveling with Just Haiti allowed me the opportunity to make a connection with the people that I can thank for the coffee I drink every morning, even though they live in a different country!

I will never forget the hospitality that I witnessed in Haiti because I felt so welcomed. For example, the women of the village cooked our every meal and insisted that we not need help prepare meals or clean up. One of my favorite parts of the trip was walking around Fond Tortue with some of the local children and them teaching me and my group how to play their games despite our language barrier.

Although there are many aspects of this trip that I will never forget, I have found that one of the greatest challenges of returning home is finding a way to internalize the lessons I learned into my daily life as a college student.  Questions such as:
  • "How can I apply the principles of solidarity and inclusion to help my local community?"
  •  "How can I support Fair Trade as a college student without a ton of extra money?"
Although I still feel that I do not have all the answers, I believe that my immersion experience with Just Haiti has taught me to be more aware as a consumer and a citizen of the world.

Haiti introduced me to the complexity of the political, social, and economic problems in the world. I am now more likely to consider why a problem exists before considering how to fix it.

I also learned the interconnectedness of people, communities, and nations of the world. This lesson has highlighted the importance of solidarity. I believe that Just Haiti is truly making a difference in Haiti and opening the hearts and minds of its customers."