Wednesday, March 19, 2014

No longer a statistic

Joseph Stalin once said, “The death of one person is a tragedy, but the death of a million persons is a statistic.” As an American citizen, the tragedies of the world can often seem like just another news story. A lost plane in Malaysia with almost 300 passengers, conflict in Ukraine that may lead to a terrible war, or millions of children dying from curable malaria, these are all stories that flood my Internet home screen every time I get on the computer, but are these statistics or people? When the stories and oppression of these people are confined to a screen, it is easy to become numb to their suffering. Their tears do not land on my shoulder, their fearful faces do not send me look of desperation, and as easy as that, they fade into the back of my mind.  I, like many other consumed Americans, take a moment of silence, recognize that something is gravely wrong in this world, but with an over-whelming and unsettling feeling in my gut, move on with my daily schedule.
                  After spending two months in the Dominican Republic, I have realized the horrific consequences of this submissive and uninformed lifestyle. Every cheek I turn, every blind eye, allows injustice to spread, grow, and conquer. This does not mean, however, that I am expected to end terrorism and world hunger, or that we as Americans are solely responsible for the suffering in the world. It does, however, give us the opportunity to become informed citizens of the world who make conscious decisions to fight injustice. The stories of hijacked planes and terrible wars, although unjust and unacceptable, are not the only cruel realties that are often under acknowledged. Basic human rights such as access to water, and fair wages are also statistics that many people struggle to understand and relate to in a deeper way. The smallest decision, however, like what candy bar you buy at the supermarket, can be a choice between a just or corrupt world, and can forever change the life of one of the “nameless sufferers.”

                  Meet Santos Constanzo (Niño). He is a local cocoa farmer in the Dominican Republic. Every time that a consumer chooses to buy a fairly traded cocoa product his life is greatly improved, but how is this possible? Niño is one of the many lucky farmers who are involved in the CONACADO Fair Trade Cocoa Co-Operative. The goal of CONACADO is to significantly improve the small-scale cocoa producers’ income, and consequently, the living conditions of the farmers and their families. Through the fair trade, the Co-Op farmers are guaranteed a certain trade price, even if the international market drops, so they have a stable and just income at all times. The blocks, or designated work areas, are composed of farmers that work together to make a quota. Along with receiving their just pay, they also receive some funding bonuses that they use together to better their communities. These bonuses have been used to improve the infrastructures at local schools and build meeting halls where the community works on strengthening their relationships with CONACADO and the fair trade industry.
                  COCACADO not only works hard to insure just wages, but they also make sure that all of their farmers use environmentally sustainable farming techniques. Their products and farming methods are organically certified (Biosuisse and NOP certification) and in accordance with the fair/alternative market prices (FLO).  This also means that their farming practices are safe, and ban dangerous child labor.
                  The simple message I hope to get across is that conscious consumers can make a larger impact on this world than one might think. Hearing tragedy after tragedy on the news, it is easy to become overwhelmed and numb to all the people suffering in the world. Especially when there is no face to put with the struggle and pain, oppression can become a distant and un-relatable emotion. Now that you have heard an individual story, I hope Michael Himes’ words ring true, “Now they are not the abstract “people”; they are “those people,” and so we mobilize to assist them.” Something as simple as buying fairly traded chocolate bars instead of a Hershey’s bar, can mean three warm meals a day for Niño and his family instead of one. So look for this symbol when you are shopping for groceries. It may not solve world hunger, or stop the spread of disease in the world, but every act of kindness makes a difference in someone’s life and brings us one step closer to a just world.