Coffee helping to defuse land mines; Polus Center aiding forgotten victims.
CLINTON - Part of the tragedy of war are the land mines left behind and the personal and economic damage they can do to victims and their communities.
It is that damage that the Polus Center for Social and Economic Development and its coffee business partners hope to repair; at the least, they aim to help individuals and communities recover from the trauma caused by mines left behind when the soldiers went home. To help pay for this, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters of Vermont recently awarded a $200,000 grant to the Polus Center's Coffeelands Trust. The trust is an umbrella organization that raises money to help the center in the work it has been involved in since the mid-1990s.
Theresa E. Kane said the Polus Center, which also works in the United States with people with developmental disabilities, had expanded its mission to include international development work.
"We did outreach to Nicaragua and other countries in Central America around prosthetics," she said.
That need was identified by the people with whom they met in countries they visited. Ms. Kane said the Polus Center does its work by going to a country and meeting with people to find out what they really need and then finding a way to provide the services. They learned that in Nicaragua, they needed help with prosthetics.
At the time, Nicaragua was recovering from a civil war, and there were many amputees who had lost limbs because of the fighting, accidents, disease and land mines.
"That's really how we got connected with the land mine assistance work that we have been involved in since," she said.
The initial work partly involved helping people with updated prosthetics. Ms. Kane said in many cases, charitable organizations had come through and provided prosthetics in Nicaragua and then moved on to other countries. There was no follow-up to replace prosthetics that wore out or that victims grew out of as they aged.
"We helped them with capacity building, which is helping them help themselves," she said.
The Polus Center helped develop a prosthetic clinic. They followed that effort in Honduras. Also in Nicaragua, they helped to develop a wheelchair factory to produce chairs appropriate for the rough, undeveloped roads and terrain on which victims would use them.
Ms. Kane said prosthetics have been a major topic since the Boston Marathon bombings caused so many traumatic injuries. She said the issues facing the marathon victims are the same as those facing victims in South and Central America.
"It's the same story. It's not about the limb, and it's not about the prosthetic, but about getting back to your life, getting back to work, being able to support your family and continuing relationships and dealing with the stigma of the label of someone with a disability," she said.
The primary funder of the work the center did in the early years around prosthetics was the U.S. Department of State Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. The office is in charge of finding ways to remove land mines, teach people in land mine areas how to avoid being injured by mines and other unexploded devices, and land mine victim assistance. Ms. Kane said that third part is where the Polus Center comes in and how the Coffeelands Trust was developed.
The Coffeelands Trust is an outgrowth of the center's prosthetic work. In working with land mine victims, the center began to notice that a majority of the people they were trying to help worked in the coffee industry.
"They were injured on the coffee farms and in the coffee fields," Ms. Kane said. "The same places, the hilly terrain, the mountains where the coffee was grown, were where they would plant land mines."
In the coffee areas, damage from the mines affected not only the individual, but also the victim's family and the community as a whole. Farmers were afraid to go back to the fields, and they were afraid to transport their product over roads that could be mined. There were physical and economic consequences.
Dean Cycon, owner and founder of Dean's Beans Coffee in Orange, suggested that since the wars and land mine problems tended to be in major coffee-growing areas, the coffee industry should get more involved in finding solutions to the problems created by the mines.
Mr. Cycon and Michael Lundquist of Petersham, executive director of the Polus Center, had known each other for a long time. Mr. Cycon, whose company is involved worldwide with fair trade issues and assistance in areas from which it buys its coffee, suggested creating the Coffeelands Trust to engage the coffee industry and find ways to help the coffee industry at its source.
Through the trust, they worked to contact coffee businesses through trade shows, by maintaining contacts with coffee executives and by publishing stories in coffee trade magazines.
Ms. Kane said the center's major funding is still from the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, but the Coffeelands Trust found strong support from Green Mountain, a socially conscious New England company. It has also received help to a lesser extent from Starbucks and smaller companies, but Green Mountain has been its major source of money. The Polus Center also operates The World Gifts Espresso Cafe in downtown Clinton, which is a coffee shop and gift store, selling items from areas in which the Center works and from people they are helping.
Green Mountain gave its first grant to the trust in 2007. This year the trust hopes the money can be used to leverage other grants, but especially be spent both on things that were already part of the Polus Center's mission, providing prosthetics and wheelchairs as well as mini-grants to farmers. The grants will be given for a variety of reasons depending on individual need.
"Everybody's so different," Ms. Kane said.
One man was given two prosthetic legs, cattle and a grant to help his niece go to college. He raises the cattle and coffee on a hillside. The new legs help him climb the hill three times a day to tend his animals and crops. Another man did not want to go back to coffee growing and was bought cattle. Other grants have been used to help farmers get organic certification, which will allow them to increase what they earn from their coffee.
Since its founding, the trust has helped farmers in Nicaragua, Colombia and Peru. Ms. Kane said the center and the trust will continue work in those areas, but also hope to work in other parts of the world, including assisting refugees from the Syrian civil war who have fled to Lebanon.
Contact George Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @georgebarnesTG.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/GEORGE BARNES
CUTLINE: Theresa E. Kane of the Polus Center points out two coffee workers on a mural at the center's cafe in Clinton.
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|Title Annotation:||LOCAL NEWS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
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