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Coffee Making a Difference

by Don Peat

By: Don Peat - Honduras This Week A bowl of rice and milk paid for by selling coffee. An unusual breakfast but for preschoolers living in the impoverished houses on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, its better than nothing. If the Manos Extendidas feeding program wasn’t in place, nothing might be all they had. From age three to six the children walk to the nearest of the two wooden, yellow houses. Inside they are given the beginnings of an education, vowel sounds, the numbers one to ten, and the names of colours. Their neighbourhoods are about 20 minutes from the nearest paved road, a collection of wooden and steel houses, crammed along narrow, bumpy dirt roads, huddled to the edge of one of the highest peaks on the edge of the capital city. From here you can see most of the sprawling city of 900,000 people but few of those have been up to this part of city, to see the barefoot children with bright eyes and never-ending smiles. Every Saturday, the centres open up to all the neighbourhood children, providing a meal for anyone that comes to their doors, about 300 children in total. The largest, reoccurring cost is ensuring the centres are stocked with food, that’s where the partner organization, Manos de Café comes into the picture. Canadian-born Dermot Westcott manages Manos de Café. He and his wife Viola have been in Honduras for two years working with Manos Extendidas and their overall sponsoring organization International Alliance for Missions Inc. From the beginning, the St. John’s Newfoundland native wanted to use the large Honduran coffee industry to help the children. “One of the top exports in Honduras is coffee and the only way people in these impoverished circumstances will see benefits from that is through organizations like Manos de Café,” said Westcott as he visited the feeding centres. The children rush to hug him as he enters their classroom. Westcott quickly realized that Honduras was receiving a large number of missions groups and saw the opportunity to help the missions and the feeding centres raise funds by selling the groups bulk orders of Honduran coffee. “In Christian circles a lot of the kids wear WWJD bracelets that mean ‘What would Jesus do?’ I always like to say, What would Jesus drink?” joked Westcott, who, since starting Manos de Café in early 2004 now has 10 Honduran coffee farms supplying Manos de Café’s roaster in Tegucigalpa. “Our main objective is that we want to reach organizations, partner with them, and show them that through a partnership with us they can provide funds for their own mission,” explained Westcott from an unfinished classroom addition on feeding centre #1. Dark clouds have been sneaking over the top of the mountain, the wind picks up slightly, and sheets of rain begin to fall. Next door the children continue to learn as the pelting rain echoes on the building’s steel roof, in an hour they’ll have a lunch of spaghetti and tortillas. All the food is paid for by Manos de Café’s efforts, which at the same time raised more than $8,000 for partner organizations. “We get to feed our kids and they get to raise money to put into their efforts,” said Westcott, “it really is win-win.” The need to feed the children was realized by Manos Extendidas director Alvin Anderson. He began to work in Honduras fulltime nine and a half years ago by helping build houses in the area. “ While we were building homes I became aware of the hunger of the kids in the area,” said Anderson, “ we would sit down to have lunch and I’d pull out a sandwich and they would gather around and stare at it.” Anderson began bringing buckets of oatmeal to feed the children. Soon they had the building and resources to serve hot meals every Saturday to the neighbourhood children. The Saturday lunches go on to this day. “If they’re in the community and they come in, we’ll feed them,” said Westcott, on whether they limit the amount of children they can feed at one time. The preschool costs $1.60 per month but most families can’t afford to pay, as a result many of the children attend for free or receive $30 per month sponsorships arranged by Westcott. The sponsorships also pay for food, clothing, medicine, dental care, and an emergency fund. “ A lot of these children leave their homes to go to the streets and make a living anyway they can,” said Anderson, “by feeding them in their neighbourhood, we’re roviding one of the basic necessities that might keep them from having to leave their homes.” On the edge of both preschool feeding centres they hope to build a playground. With time they hope the preschools will grow into an elementary school for the children as well. Their long-term vision for both Manos Extendidas and Manos de Café is large but they both remained focused on fulfilling the simple necessity of food for the hungry children living so far down in poverty and yet so high above the rest of the city on the mountaintop. Westcott, Anderson, and their fellow volunteers will continue to provide meals as long as the need is there and the coffee sales to other organizations support the food costs.