A brighter future, one banana at a time

by Diana Crane, PCC Director of Sustainability

This article was originally published in October 2009

2 people

(October 2009) — The next time you buy a bunch of bananas at PCC, try this: Break off a banana, hold it horizontally, and imagine a child with a grin as wide as the fruit in your hand. Then smile yourself.

There is a direct connection between PCC’s bananas and smiles, especially those on the faces of dozens of impoverished children in southwestern Mexico. It’s a wonderful story and — as it is both National Co-op Month and National Fair Trade Month — a timely one.

My family and I wrote a chapter of it last winter as volunteers at Project Amigo, a nonprofit organization that works to empower poor Mexican children through education.

Project Amigo is partly funded by the GROW (Giving Resources and Opportunities to Workers) Fund. GROW was created by Organics Unlimited, a small, family-owned company near Project Amigo headquarters in Colima, Mexico. It grows the equitably traded, organic bananas sold at PCC.

Project Amigo provides books, field trips, scholarships and other enrichment opportunities to the poor children of Colima, to encourage them to stay in school. Unlike a charity, there are no free rides — the children earn the support they receive and then use their educations to help their families and communities. The organization helps them take pride in achieving literacy and even to aspire to pursuing graduate degrees.

Last December my husband, our teenaged daughter and son, and I traveled to Mexico for a “work week” at Project Amigo. After flying to Guadalajara, we traveled by “Amigo Bus” to the village of Cofradia de Suchtitlán in the state of Colima, which is the heart of Project Amigo’s operations.

We were met by Ted Rose and Susan Hill, founders of Project Amigo, and given our assignments, which included organizing books, clothing and shoes for distribution to more than 200 local children. And at week’s end, we threw a holiday fiesta for the children who had stayed in school all year and attended Project Amigo-run homework clubs.

We first visited local schools, where we helped children select books, write their names inside the covers, and read them aloud. For most, the books were rare personal possessions and their visible pride in ownership and accomplishment was humbling.

Later we spent many hours sorting donated and purchased clothing, and gift wrapping outfits of new clothes, shoes, underwear and socks for each child named on teacher-prepared lists. These outfits were the only new clothes the children would receive until the next December work week, so after the packages were opened, we made certain everything fit. Having earned the privilege of attending the holiday fiesta, they deserved to look wonderful when they arrived.

When not busy with tasks or the children, we explored Cofradia and attended lectures on the importance of the geology, celebrations, handicrafts and even tequila to the surrounding communities. We feasted on regional cuisine and, of course, locally grown bananas — the same GROW bananas we enjoy back home.

Since 2004 PCC has sold only GROW bananas because of their exceptional quality, Organics Unlimited’s fair labor practices, and the community-building projects funded by GROW. For each case sold, PCC contributes 60 cents to the fund, none of which is added to the retail price. Mayra and Manuel Velasquez de Leon, owners of Organics Unlimited, operate GROW with low overhead and a great deal of personal attention to make certain each peso is carefully spent.

It was Mayra who initiated the relationship between GROW and Project Amigo, to give her workers’ children access to the educational opportunities Project Amigo offered. For three years GROW, in partnership with the International Community Foundation, has provided grants to support scholarships for 28 Project Amigo students in junior high through college.

It also has contributed to Project Amigo’s administrative costs and to student housing at Casa Amiga, a boarding home for young scholars who need a safe place to live while attending school in Colima.

Our Project Amigo stay ended with the holiday fiesta that was all about fun for the children. Food, games, dancing and music filled a large patio in downtown Colima, giving them a respite from the poverty they live with daily. But a future of poverty is no longer their destiny, thanks to Project Amigo and the GROW Fund.

To learn more, to support directly, or to sign up as a volunteer, see projectamigo.org. To learn more about GROW, see organicsunlimited.com — and buy GROW bananas at PCC. Don’t forget to smile when you do; you’re giving dozens of children reason to smile at the same time.

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