Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Locals work for a better Uganda (Pt.1)

2007 Hornbeck at Testimony School dedication

John Hornbeck at Testimony School Dedication 2007

Like a great cup of coffee, the now full-bodied relationship between Sisters and Uganda began with fresh water.

Seven years ago, a team from Sisters Community Church led by pastor Tim Kizziar in cooperation with All Nations Ministries, ventured to a desolated village in Eastern Uganda to offer clean water and spiritual hope.

This fall, coffee aficionados right here in Sisters may get a taste of some unexpected fruits of that journey, simply by brewing a pot of locally-bought coffee.

Amid the steep, lush canyons that camouflaged violent tribes, Kizziar’s original group prayed for healing of the land and its people. And they began the slow work of growing their new friendship with the warm, open-armed Subiny tribe.

“Africa is built on relationships,” says John Hornbeck of Sisters. Hornbeck, an unassuming, retired attorney just back from his latest trip to Uganda, and Paul Rawlins, SCC’s energetic Outward Pastor, are buzzing with excitement over a new coffee-related endeavor that they believe could be a dynamic agent of change for Uganda.

Hornbeck and Rawlins represent hundreds of church members who embraced a long-term commitment to give a leg up to the people of Kapchorwa village in their fight for survival – and revival – under harsh conditions.


Murderous cattle rustlers, AIDS and waterborne diseases are just some of the miseries that decimated the farming community – leaving many homeless, fatherless and vulnerable.

Kizziar partnered with Pastor Godwin of Kapchorwa’s Christ Glorious Church back in 2003, and began exploring ways to help Godwin help his people.

First, SCC provided a well in a soldier-guarded Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camp and medical teams to remedy health issues.

Then they addressed the children’s future. Says Hornbeck, “Their young people have a great desire for education and to excel; they have aspirations.”

Today, just up the mountain from the IDP camp stands the newly built Testimony School where, according to Rawlins, 450 children now receive an education, health care, shoes and a daily meal through SCC’s child-sponsorship program. Back in Sisters, many of us display photos of the eager, bright-faced Kapchorwan boys and girls who we support and correspond with.

Garth with our "son" Daniel 

Our Sponsor Child, Daniel

They saw the need for the community to become self-sustaining.

In 2005, an SCC team noted that the only large building in Kapchorwa was a coffee mill. When asked about the quality of their coffee crop, farmers eagerly showed off their beans, and a my husband (who had connections to Starbucks) had the coffee analyzed.

As it turned out, the high altitude and tropical climate along the western slopes of Mt. Elgon yield the ideal growing conditions for quality Arabica beans. Mt. Elgon straddles the border of Kenya to the east and Kenyan coffees typically garner top dollar.

Despite the fact that in the world economy coffee is the second largest commodity next to oil, these simple farmers seemed surprised by the level of interest. Uganda, historically, was a British colony; most Ugandans drink tea.

They sell most of their crop locally, or to large multi-national corporations who pay bottom dollar then market the beans as “farmer co-op.” Rawlins says, “The term is deceitful; consumers don’t know the difference.”

Those corporations further control the farmers because they own the only bean-washing station. According to Hornbeck, “They’re just farmers, with no access to direct buyers and no ability to market.”


Rawlins and Hornbeck explored several scenarios to improve the farmers’ bottom line, but came up dry until two years ago, when they got some help from an unexpected source. Hornbeck’s sister, a member of the board at Michigan State University, connected Hornbeck with Dan Clay, the head of the school’s Institute of Agriculture.

Clay, along with a native Rwandan grad student, had created the PEARL project (The Partnership for Enhancing Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages) which played a key role in the redevelopment of Rwanda from its devastation by genocide. Hornbeck says that under Clay’s program, “one washing station grew to like a hundred and forty, and coffee became the chief export of Rwanda and the most important economic factor in their recovery.”

When Michigan State performed a diagnostic on coffee grown in the region around Kapchorwa, its high characteristics were confirmed: Arabica, mountain grown, volcanic soil, shade grown. And Hornbeck and Rawlins’ hopes were confirmed that, using Michigan State’s model, they could have a similar success in Uganda.

I’ll post Part 2 Tomorrow.

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