This Mother’s Day, we want to acknowledge the mothers in farming communities that are contributing to their families’ coffee, cacao or tea production, while also running their households – cooking, cleaning, and tending to the children, animals, and gardens. It’s a lot of work, and often requires getting up as early as 4 a.m. and being the last to go to sleep. Supporting fairly traded products from small farmer co-ops supports the women in these communities. Many of the co-ops have women’s programs that help the women to diversify their family’s income, purchase time-saving equipment for their household, and address health issues.
I'd like to introduce you to three women who inspired me during my February visit to Gumutindo coffee co-operative in Uganda. These women are from three different primary societies (co-ops) - the three that Equal Exchange buys coffee from in Uganda. We’re excited to be in the early stages of a women's training and leadership program in these three societies. Stay tuned for more on that.
Oliva, Jennipher and Florence grow and harvest their own coffee and are active leaders in their communities. Here’s just a fragment of their stories - in their own words.
Oliva Kishero, Buginyanya co-op - Mother of seven
Oliva has been a strong force in getting women organized, not just in the community of Buginyanya, but in surrounding communities as well. She joined the Buginyanya co-op in 2003, when there were no women members. "My husband was working so I started attending the [co-op] meetings," she said. "I liked the meetings so much. I was then elected treasurer. There were very few women involved [in the co-op], so I started training and encouraging them. I wanted to be an example. If me, why not them?" Her women's group now has 20 members, and they're working to build a "family shop" where the women can get basic necessities for the household, like salt, sugar, food items, and paraffin wax for candles.
Jennipher Wetaka, Nasufwa co-op - Mother of six
In August 2010, Jennipher’s husband passed away. She turned to Nasufwa's newly formed women's group during her time of need. "Had I been alone, I would have been in a bad position," she said. "Talking with [the women] is so good. They give me advice, counsel me. It's social support." The group is two years old and has 15 members. Besides talking about domestic issues, they also encourage women to grow and harvest their own coffee and to become members of the co-op. Jennipher has seen a change in the women in her community over the last few years: "Before [becoming members of the co-op], women would not stand up and talk in public. Now they participate in discussions in meetings. They propose. They oppose."
Florence Watsala, Bumayoga co-op - Mother of two
Ten years ago, Florence Watsala became a founding member of Bumayoga primary society. She is now the chairperson of the SACCO, which is an independent savings and loan organization in the community. "With this responsibility, people give me respect," she said. "I just hope that God gives me the knowledge to manage handling the SACCO as a chairperson. The SACCO has many members and each has their problems, and I have to handle them as a woman. Being a leader is not easy. Sometimes there are challenges when I call a meeting. But when the members clap their hands I feel so happy."
On Mother’s Day, I hope you take a moment to celebrate the women who balance so much - whether they're your own mom or they’re women coffee farmers on the other side of the world.