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Just over a week ago, I was standing on the top of a building. I tried to take it in. Each day felt like a thousand new experiences as I met wonderful people, as I tried to absorb what living in Mexico is like.

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Omar explained that if you are dark-skinned, you experience racism, abuse, and isolation. Yes, even in Mexico where the majority of people are the same complexion.

Omar went on to say that if one is indigenous, that the treatment becomes worse. You are “less-than.” 

For children, it is worse. For girls, even much more-so.

4 million in Chiapas state live below the poverty-line. Many of these children are not going to school. Instead, they work alongside their families trying to scrape by. They make bricks. They pick coffee beans. Some are indentured servants – slaves – trying to work off the debt of something like 400-600 dollars. They make such meager earnings that they will never be able to repay the loan, plus interest.

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They pick coffee beans like this one in the photo. They roast it and sell it.

But it wouldn’t be sold at a “fair trade” value because these are children. These are the poorest of the poor that try to exist in a world that has been unfair for years and years.

Because they are indigenous. Because they are not part of the “elite” in Mexico.

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This 11-year-old boy and I made friends from the start. He attends a Compassion Child Development Center known as Sc’uxul yo’tan Cristo Student Center (ME-983). I thought his name was Ryan, but he was all smiles.

He lives in a jungle community and he helps his father pick coffee beans. I am not saying that Ryan is some sort of indentured servant, nor is his father. He attends school. He also attends the Compassion program at least 6-8 hours per week. Most of the adults in the area work on plantations – agriculture such as corn, coffee beans, plantains, and other fruits or vegetables that can be grown in this region. They make around $128 per month based on what they are able to bring in. If there is a drought, they make nothing. If someone is sick, they make nothing.

Compassion is working in the community to ensure that the children learn about Jesus and have a hope for their future. They provide children with Bible classes, medical checkups, hygiene and health education, sports, community service opportunities, home visits, school supplies (such as uniforms or shoes as well as notebooks and pens and fees for books), tutoring and homework supervision, reading workshops, and they celebrate with the children – birthdays, and academic reinforcement.

This isn’t a “Compassion” program but what the church is doing in the community. It is local believers, local church workers who work with these children. They have grown up in the area. They know these children by name. They know their parents, their siblings, and their home situations. They provide counseling for the parents and guardians of the children.

So, I see a lot of good being done in this community and others like it.

I just continue to wonder about “fair trade” and what it all means. Are these organizations that arrange “fair trade” really helping in communities like this? Communities where kids are working after school so that their families can eat? 

For some reason, the arrangement of fair trade is suddenly bothering me. I hear people in my circle say “I only buy fair trade.”  And to me, it sounds snooty. It reminds me that we can’t really know all of the situations.

Are “fair trade” organizations truly helping? Or are they just creating a system that throws some impoverished communities into deeper desperation?

I don’t have the answers. From what I read about fair trade, I do believe that they are beneficial. Organizations like FairTrade USA and Buy Well Coffee are amongst some of the companies I have bought from in the past.

I tried to explain this to a coworker who looked at me as though I had gone mad. Of course fair trade is fair!

Yet, when I look into the face of the 11-year-old who chased me around/I chased around the trees in his father’s farm, who I picked coffee beans with, and smiled, I also wondered if we all start purchasing from these ‘fair trade” places, if we are pushing them right out of the business world.

I just worry, I suppose.

And yet, if God has his eye on the sparrow, then His eyes are lovingly watching over this community.

 

 

 

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