Al-Tun Ha, Belize…or Altoona, PA?
In 2015, we disembarked from a Carnival cruise ship headed for an excursion to a group of Mayan ruins. We were quickly whisked out of the comfy cruise port, through a chain link gate onto a waiting bus then on to al-tun-ha, which is a a spectacular display of ancient Mayan civilization. On the way, we noticed impoverished villages, pot hole ridden roads, we saw thatched roof houses, disheveled kids and stray dogs everywhere, women were doing the laundry in the stream, and “lawns” were being cleared with machetes–we witnessed poverty as we have never seen it. Our hearts were touched and we knew in some way, some day, we would return.
Our Visioning Trip
In the fall of 2015, met a couple who had been serving people in Belize for 20+ years helping to develop a sewing ministry. We joined with them and The Word at Work in February of 2016 to spend 10 days on a visioning trip where we would get to know many servants from all over Belize. We visited childrens’ homes, and rescue shelters, and we actually got to enter the only prison in Belize. Every time we met with a volunteer or director, we were asked if we could help to bring their food source a little closer to home.
We had planned to return in 2017 for 40 days to help build and develop sustainable agriculture programs at each of the facilities, then return annually to work along side of the individual organizations.
The Ram Pump
What we had seen and experienced and planned for during our 2016 visioning trip was only the tip of the iceberg–yes, in 2017 we worked to help an orphanage and a rescue shelter to build vegetable gardens in an attempt to be more self-sufficient, but that project only took us a few days! Our goal is not to give ourselves another full time job, but to train and empower those we are working with so when we were finished, the young ladies were ready to take control of their new projects–all we needed to do was check in and follow up.
Another project that was on our schedule was to connect with a remote village–San Pedro, and to help them build a ram pump to irrigate their produce fields for increased crop production.
Once we arrived, we found that they didn’t need more water, they didn’t need to increase crop production, but what they did need was a way to effectively use the ground they have to earn a better living. You see, 64 families live in the village; there are 2 vehicles, no running water, most houses are thatched roof with dirt floors. The chickens and ducks nest inside the home–which gives a whole new meaning to FRESH EGGS! Student’s families are required to buy books and uniforms and if the student wants to move beyond 7th grade, an annual tuition of $800 is payable from the families! That doesn’t sound like a lot to us here in the US, but consider this–most of the men work in the adjacent banana fields for $.75 per hour….they start at 8 am and work until 10 pm, 6 days a week. ($45 per week!!!) For that reason, we are developing the Sowing Seeds in Belize Scholarship fund. Please consider following the link and helping us to support one of these children!
The question quickly became, “How can we help, what can we do?” The problem was that we know that the biggest reason that foreign support, whether missionary or other humanitarian aid is that giving and giveaways often fail and cause more problems for communities in the developing world! So, what could we do…what can we offer…could we make a lasting impact?
So, we sought permission from the Alcalde(Village Magistrate) to call a meeting of the farmers to hear from them. After a few minutes he agreed to “blow the shell”! That’s right, just like in Lord of the Flies, the community had to have a way to call a gathering and sure enough, he stood proudly on the school stoop and pulled out a large conch shell and let out a loud blow. Within minutes, the community had gathered and the meeting began. I would speak a dozen words or so, then Pastor Ishim would translate. We simply wanted to hear from the farmers–what do they want, what do they need, how can we come along side of them and help?
After about 1 hour, the answer was clear, they wanted to grow yellow ginger–turmeric. So, we set out to find some seed-stock to give them. Then we spent spent hours upon hours with our friend Google learning to be experts in growing, harvesting, and selling turmeric. Fortunately, we were directed to Mr. Salucio Chiac, a 28 year old yellow ginger expert. Salucio sold us 100 # and donated another 25# which we were going to deliver the next day–keep in mind, we needed to arrive as experts, but we did NOT want to be the cocky arrogant white folks coming in to tell them the way they needed to farm the crop! We were fearful that if we approached the meeting the wrong way we would burn bridges before they were ever built! We now know that God put a little tug on Salucio’s heart, because minutes before we were to leave we got a text from Salucio, “Hey, what are you guys doing today?” Us, “We are headed to San Pablo with the turmeric”, Salucio, “Hey, I’d like to go”.
WOW!!! The fears and the prayers that were leading up to this meeting were taken care of–on the way to the meeting we briefed Salucio and he ran the meeting–spoke in a culturally relevant way, spoke in a noninvasive fashion, and spoke in a way that connected with fellow Belizean farmers. Today, Salucio is the key connection for us in Belize, both as in a business and a ministry relationship…but more importantly, as a friend!
So, the project is underway, but there is one big problem–what were the farmers going to do with their crops? You see, turmeric is really amazing producing a 10:1 yield. They planted 125#, which will yield 1250# pounds of fresh turmeric in 9 months…which will be replanted this February, and then in another 9 months they will have 12,500# of the crop! Belize has a population of 350,000 with an average annual income of $10,000, there is a very limited infrastructure, and very limited export opportunities, and to top all that, the village of San Pablo is a 50 minute off-road trip from the hard road. What in the world will they do with all that turmeric??
Maya Mountain Coffee and Spice Company is born…
We knew that the only hope for their efforts to bear the fruit that we had hoped for was for us to get the crop to the US…but how would that look? So, within the next few weeks, we were led to people who help us with permits and permissions, export services, importers and import brokers, and just about every other piece of the puzzle for us to form a US based import business. When we got back home, applications were filed, permits were sought, and documents were finalized and within 2 months, the Maya Mountain Coffee and Spice Company was born!
Now, word spreads quickly in a small country, we were soon getting emails, Facebook messages, and WhattsApp calls from Belize: One guy has cardamom, one guy had allspice, one lady has more turmeric, one family has ginger, one lady makes hand pressed coconut oil, and a small village just got a grant to put a cohune nut oil processing facility in!!! This part time sell some Belizean goods to do some good business was quickly turning into a business that required incorporation, partners, and a full time commitment…this is going to be big!
We have just returned from a time to build partnerships, we harvested, we helped to build a passive solar drier for cardamom, allspice, coffee, and turmeric. We are building a partnership with a newly formed vanilla and spice growers co-op, and we are now building business relationships here in the good ole USA to help us help Belizeans fulfill the dream of a better life!
Doing good in 2 Ways.
Not only will Maya Mountain Coffee and Spice Company give the farmers a place to sell their crops, but we as an ownership team have committed to return a portion of our gross sales to be returned back to our ministry Sowing Seeds in Belize Sowing seeds will work to empower farmers, provide educational scholarships, help with health care needs, and whatever and wherever God leads us throughout Belize!
What can you expect from this weekly blog?
Finally, look for posts from our team–Eric & Cindy Noel, and Vic & Kay King. We will keep you informed and entertained with stories from Belize, recipes, uses and benefits for MMCSC products, the differences between life here in the US and life in a third world nation, and well…who knows…wherever He may lead us.
Our first shipment is here! Hand Pressed Coconut Oil, Cohune Nut Oil, Allspice, Ground Allspice, Green Cardamom, Fresh Ginger, and Ground Turmeric.
Don’t forget–enter SOFTOPENING at checkout for a 10% discount on all orders through Dec 16th
WE ENCOURAGE AN OPEN DIALOG–QUESTIONS? COMMENTS?? WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!