Photo: Vanessa Vick
JJ's face is thin with a patchy beard, lined slightly with age. He knows firsthand the cost of religious intolerance. Idi Amin sowed a great distrust of Jews in Uganda, and when JJ and two of his brothers tried to build a synagogue in the late 1980s, they were arrested and tortured by local police. After 9/11 he was determined to change the dynamic, including reaching out to some of the same people who had beaten him. In 2004 he walked up and down the dusty, pitted road, going from neighbor to neighbor, telling them of his dream to bring people of all religions together to grow coffee and, with coffee, to spread peace.
"At the time, we had some differences among the Christians, the Muslims, and the Jews," says Sinina Namudosi, a young Muslim woman, now a board member of the coffee cooperative. "But together we formed Mirembe Kawomera, which in the Luganda language means 'delicious peace.'"
With help from Kulanu, a nonprofit organization that has been working with Uganda's Jewish community since the mid '90s, the coffee growers were able to obtain fair trade certification and find a distributor, the Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Fort Bragg, California. Thanksgiving buys the coffee from the cooperative at a guaranteed minimum price, no matter what the market does, netting the farmers around $2 a pound—a big improvement over the 60 cents they had been getting—and sells it online at deliciouspeace.com. To promote the interfaith dialogue started by Mirembe Kawomera, they offer wholesale prices to buying clubs, which now include more than 90 mosques, synagogues, churches, schools, and community centers throughout the United States. Their motto, says Thanksgiving's project director, Ben Corey-Moran, is "Not just a cup, but a just cup."
We Hear You!