Fair trade coffee serves up benefits for Guatemalan farmers

While I don’t have much time to blog lately, given then theme of this blog I couldn’t not put a link to this article. This is a research project I would love to have done in Honduras….

Odyssey | Fresh-Brewed Research.


‘The Poverty Diet’

January 8, 2009

‘The Poverty Diet’: a Comparison of the American Diet and Weight Loss Plans in Consideration of Global Food Shortages | EcoSalon – The Green Gathering.

The ‘diet’ described here is pretty typical for rural Central America. Vanessa Barrington’s discussion of her experience in Guatemala helps put the ‘economic crisis’ of developed nations into perspective.

I mentioned in my last post that I have another writing project, and I thought maybe I should share more about it as I am finding it a very interesting process. Last year I wrote an article for Just Change– a magazine put out by Dev Zone (Aotearoa New Zealand non-governmental resource centre on international development and global issues) “about, by, and for those who are concerned with sustainable development, social justice, and human rights”.

The theme of the issue was religion so I pulled some things related to religion from my Master’s research, which was about the role of Medical Missions in Honduras. The editors are now planning an issue on Volunteering and I offered a short article on medical volunteering (even though I have almost no time for writing!). However they already had someone covering that and asked for another on religion. I was a little hesitant about that at first, but warmed to the topic again, expanding on some ideas from the first article. The process has been quite therapeutic, allowing me to reflect on, and be honest with myself about my religious roots.

That article won’t be published until February, but in the meantime- here is the first one.


Medical Missions: Care and Controversy
Just Change: Religion and Spirituality
July 2006, Page 27

Humanitarian service is a fundamental tenant of most major religions, and has a particularly important place in Christianity. Christian missionaries and religious organisations have long played a part in the provision of health care services to many isolated and impoverished regions and this tradition continues today. With the availability of cheap airfares and paid vacation time, voluntary health care is now increasingly provided in the form of Short Term Medical “Missions” (STMMs). These are teams of mainly expatriate health professionals who travel to developing nations for a few days or weeks to provide health care to the poor. While these STMMs are sometimes the only form of medical care to which impoverished communities have access, they are also the focus of much controversy and debate, criticised for their limitations in relation to language and culture, resources, personnel, knowledge and time. Religious missions face further criticism, particularly those that proselytise.

Although not all STMMs are religious, religious involvement and religious beliefs have been shown to be associated with a greater likelihood to volunteer.1 This was evident in my research on STMMs in Honduras, where I found that 50-70% of teams and volunteer were religiously motivated. However, the degree to which religion was a motivating factor – and the level to which it influenced the activities of the team – varied considerably. Some of these teams were strongly evangelical, others more subtle, offering service as an expression of their faith.

At one end of the STMM spectrum are teams that arrive in Honduras with a strong evangelical purpose. For these teams the medical work is secondary, and may take a back seat to religious activities such as prayer, church meetings and evangelism. These teams overtly proselytise, often using the medical work to draw people in to hear their message. This was evident in one team involved in my research; they defined their medical work as “bait”, and their main purpose of being in Honduras was to evangelise. This particular approach may arise from the premise that the first role of the church is evangelistic mission.2 Many evangelical Christians believe their primary task is to “bring the gospel to a dying world… (and) the command to evangelise is all that matters”.3

Not surprisingly, the above approach raises significant ethical questions. While most evangelical volunteers would argue that they provide medical care without expecting a religious response, the perception of the patients and community may well be otherwise. During my research, an NGO director who has worked for many years in Honduras state that evangelical STMMs “forced people to lie”, as people converted in order to receive medical treatment.

Not all religious missions are evangelical in nature. While for some, volunteering for a medical brigade may be an opportunity to pass on their beliefs, for others it is an opportunity simply to express Christian values;4 more about Christian responsibility than about evangelism. However, even non-evangelical teams are criticised on the basis that they provide assistance both without reference to the local culture and subject to their own biases. As Mburu5 notes, Christian agencies carry the legacy of their background and beliefs with them wherever they go, and these have an influence on where they go and what they do. This may lead to the provision of services that are inappropriate or even damaging to the community they are trying to help. This is particularly evident where teams are faced with sensitive issues such as sexuality and mental health. At best, religious teams may be ill equipped to respond to sexual, social or psychiatric problems.

Despite these issues, religious missions continue to provide medical care across Honduras, and questions regarding the appropriateness and ethics of religious missions are often overlooked. STMMs offer a free service to countries whose own health service is in disarray, and even critics are reluctant to risk losing access to that service.

While this article addresses STMMs in Honduras, Christian missions are present in almost all areas of the globe, and the issues raised here are pertinent worldwide. Religious organisations have a long and proud history. They provide valuable services to impoverished regions, but their contribution can be controversial and must be balanced against the needs of the community. It is important that Christians involved in providing medical care to developing countries assess their motivations and activities to provide the best and most appropriate care possible.

1 Bussell, H. and D. Forbes (2002). “Understanding the volunteer market: The what, where, who and why of
volunteering.” International Journal of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Marketing 7(3): 244-250.
2 Stewart, A. C. (1999). Medical Missions – is medical work useful in mission? Retrieved 16 May, 2005, from http://www.healthserve.org/pubs/a0113.htm
3 Reinhart Bonnke, quoted in Gifford, P. (2000). Christian Fundamentalism and Development. In S. Crobridge (Ed.), Development: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences (Vol. 5, pp 34-47). London: Routledge.
4. Russell, H. and D. Forbes (2002). “Understanding the volunteer market: The what, where, who and why of volunteering.” International Journal of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Marketing 7(3): 244-250.
5 Mburu, F. M. (1989). “Non-government organizations in the health field: Collaboration, integration and contrasting aims in Africa.” Social Science & Medicine 29(5): 591-597.

All the charity in the world

September 12, 2007

I’m very grateful to all these organizations in the United States, especially the private and religious organizations. I appreciate the food and clothing they send. I thank them sincerely for their willingness to help, and I know they do it with great love. But I’d also like to say that this realationship–where we’re dependent on the goodwill of outsiders–isn’t the kind of relationship we’d like to have…. We’re not going to solve our problem through handouts. Because our problem is a social one. And until we change this system, all the charity in the world won’t take us out of poverty.

– Elvia Alvarado
Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart

(HT God’s Politics: Voice of the Day)

Honduran Children

August 13, 2007

Maybe it is because my daughter is one, but I have a very soft spot for Honduran children. My google reader has thrown up a few posts about them recently which I thought I’d share.

The bad news- the UN Children’s Rights Committee has “warned that thousands of Honduran children are growing up on the streets without access to health care and education, and forced to work or commit crimes in order to survive.”

Another UN report (co-written by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the children’s fund, Unicef) states that more than a third of children and teenagers in Latin America lack access to safe drinking water in their homes, with the worst affected being groups black and indigenous children, particularly in Nicaragua, Honduras and Bolivia.

The good news- “ministers from several Central American nations (including Honduras) are gathering to discuss child labor problems in their countries. … The goal of the meeting is to eradicate child labor in the region. The ministers also plan to create programs ensuring a more decent life for children.”

The heartwarmer- This photo gallery of children from Ciudad España in Honduras, photographed by Terry Rombeck. I find that beautiful pictures like this one below help restore some balance to all the bad news.


Central American Scholar

August 4, 2007

NerdTests.com User Test: The Central American Test.

Thanks La Gringa.

Your Coffee Dollar

July 24, 2007


It has been a while since I have written a post about coffee, and given that it is the theme I chose for this blog I have been thinking lately that it is about time I did. Luckily someone forwarded me a link to Your Coffee Dollar. In internet terms it is very old (2003) but it shows quite clearly where your the money you spend on your daily latte actually ends up.

Green LA girl has also recently posted her 6-Step Program for the Caffeine Addicted, a great place to start if you are interested in the issue but not sure exactly what that means for your coffee habit. I have linked to her Coffee Crisis Series before and still highly recommend it.

Step 5 of the 6-Step Program is to check out your local indie coffee shop. According to CoffeeGeek it looks like New Zealand and Australia are on track with this one. I knew we liked our espresso here but was fascinated to read that less than 6% of small cafes in Australia and New Zealand are franchised, as compared to over 40% in North America.

What is unique is that, outside Italy, the Australian and New Zealand café markets are the only other 100% espresso-based markets in the world! The US and other countries are dominated by filter style, or brewed, coffee. You cannot give filter coffee away in Australia or New Zealand. Furthermore, the Australian and New Zealand markets are unique in that the espresso based coffees are nearly always served with milk – approximately 98%, compared to 5% milk based coffees in Italy.

Yup, thats me. Latte queen. This also explains why I had enormous difficulty finding good coffee in the USA.

The ratio of espresso machines to population in Australia and New Zealand is approximately 850 people to 1 machine, only bested by Italy. In comparison, in the US, there are roughly 20,000 people per espresso machine.

I have a very tiny, very battered little espresso machine that I was given as a birthday gift by my family over 10 years ago. I’m not sure I could live without it. But I’m not alone in that, it’s really not unusual here to have a home espresso machine. And no cafe owner would dare open the doors without a decent espresso machine and trained barista.

While getting a good cup of coffee in New Zealand has been no problem for years, until recently it has been hard to get fair trade espresso. When I first arrived back in NZ six years ago all I could find were somewhat stale bags of beans from Trade Aid. But now I can get my daily fix of peoples coffee from a cafe around the corner from work, and can buy some pretty good beans at our local supermarket. Trade Aid still sells coffee (I haven’t tried it in years though so couldn’t tell you if it is any better now), but it also has a nationwide list of cafes, restaurants, supermarkets and organic stores who support fair trade. So there is no excuse!

Until we move to Latin America. I’m not sure what I’ll do then. Maybe I’ll have to grow my own.

What should I do?

July 15, 2007

I have a big decision to make. And I’m really not sure what to do.

For a while now I have been feeling quite unsettled. When we moved back to Wellington at the end of 2005 it was supposed to be a temporary move while my husband completed his studies and we made some plans for the future. We are still here. To most people this might not seem a major issue. After all, I have a good job with a great organisation, we have a comfortable home and lifestyle, and I know my parents are very happy that we (ie the grand-daughter!) are still here. New Zealand is a great place to live and I do love my country.

But those that know me might understand the problem. I have very itchy feet and a very curious mind. I have always found it difficult to settle, and love to experience new places and to learn new things. Once again I feel ready to move on. And I think I know what I want to do next.

I have this crazy dream of ditching my job, packing up the house and re-enrolling at university to do a PhD. I finished my Masters Degree in Development Studies nearly 18 months ago. This involved a thesis year, and I did the research for the thesis in Honduras. I think I might be completely mad but I would like to do more of this. I have more questions I’d like to try and answer. I actually enjoy the process of planning, researching and writing. I am pretty sure I have the academic ability and determination to do it.

But it is a huge amount of work (3 years minimum) and would be big sacrifice both for myself and for my family. It would involve spending a year at university either here or Australia, a year of fieldwork (most likely in Honduras) and then another year or so to do the writing (80-100 000 words). At the moment I am inclined towards an Australian University for various reasons, which would mean my husband and daughter would have to pack up and come too.

My wonderful, supportive husband says go for it. He has tried to explain to me more than once that as a Latino his idea of a “career” and of life is different. While he has some ideas about what he might like to do in the future, he doesn’t have any plans or goals that he holds tightly to and says he is happy has long as he has his two girls, a house to live in and food in his stomach! But I still feel guilty, dragging him around after my plans, when he has had little enough opportunity in life to pursue his own dreams (this is partly why we are still here, in our 30s, while he finishes his undergraduate degree, something able to do in Honduras).

The benefits of doing this study could be enormous. I would be able to specialise further in an area I am very interested in. It could open doors to teaching, writing and research opportunities in Latin America and here (and elsewhere), a career path I am actually quite excited by. But it could also be unnecessary and even problematic, I could well end up an overqualified, underemployed academic bore. I may just be better off going to Latin America, getting some experience volunteering or working with NGOs and building up a life from there. Do I need another academic qualification to write? To be able to make a contribution to Honduras?

The idea of doing a PhD is actually something I have had in the back of my mind since mid-way through the Masters, but I had always put it off as something I could do in the future, after I had gotten some more experience working in Latin America or elsewhere.  But it occurred to me recently that  because the nature of the study I want to do involves moving around, that it might be better to do it now while my daughter is still small.  Once she starts school, and if my husband gets a good job, then we will need to be more settled.  I have a window of opportunity now and I am very very tempted to take it.  But it would be such a huge undertaking, one that involves sacrifice from my family, and without knowing if it is actually something that will be worthwhile in the end.

So there’s my dilemma.  If you have managed to read through this whole post- thank you.  I really don’t expect answers or advice, just writing this all out has helped to clarify my thoughts a little.  Maybe someday soon I’ll come to some sort of conclusion and be able to post my decision.

Global Snippets 2

June 24, 2007

  • A tale of two towns“Two controlled, imagined communities symbolise the global disorder and social polarisation that marks the era of war on terror.” A fascinating but sobering account of two “towns” that illustrate the world of the twenty-first century.
  • Meanwhile satellite images document atrocities in real towns- at least what once was towns.
  • Child labour and the Olympics “…basic labor standards are being violated by four Chinese factories in particular that have been licensed to manufacture goods for the games. The group reported that workers as young as 12 are working 12-hour shifts or longer, seven days a week in unsafe conditions.”
  • Slow intervention could lead to increased child malnutrition in the south of Honduras- early 8,300 subsistence-producer families lost most of the harvest during the 2006/07 agriculture cycle in this region.

Global Snippets

June 9, 2007

Women forced to give up their jobs, marriage: Another consequence of the war in Iraq. “Insurgents and militias want us out of the work environment for many reasons: Some because they believe that women were born to stay at home – cooking and cleaning – and others because they say it is against Islam to share the same space with men who are not close relatives”.

And the G8 Verdict Is – Failure: “Even this $60 billion smokescreen can’t cover up for the abject failure of the G8 to move forward on their AIDS promises. This is devastating news for the 40 million people living with HIV and AIDS… 24,000 people have died over the last three days while G8 leaders have been wrangling over text on how many lives to save”. And Oxfam has noted that only a fraction of the US$60 billion represented new aid since the figure was spread over an unspecified number of years and includes money already pledged.

Study finds child hunger costs Central America billions of dollars every year“This study is a wake up call to the international community that widespread child hunger is not only a moral and humanitarian issue, but it has economic consequences as well.” Maybe those leaders who don’t care about children’s lives will listen to the money.

Finally, some good news-for those of us that live in New Zealand: The Global Peace Index ranks NZ at no. 2.  The news is not so good if you live in the Sudan or Iraq. And it does make me wonder about the wisdom of our plan to move from NZ to Honduras.