Since 2010 the Family Run for Coffee has been an annual fundraiser for the Guatemala Coffee Microgrants project, part of the mission outreach program at “First Pres,” the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County. The 2023 Coffee Run & Fun is a little different, but the project it supports hasn’t changed.
Guatemala Coffee Microgrants & the First Pres Guatemala Partnership
Since 2003, FPCHC has partnered with a presbytery (group of churches) to address the root causes of poverty for Mayan families in the Boca Costa region of southwestern Guatemala. Ours is an equitable partnership, where our Mayan brothers and sisters identify the needs and opportunities in their community, and we jointly determine how First Pres can most effectively help and empower them. The partnership pursues multiple strategies:
- Education: First Pres provides scholarships for youth who want to attend school past the government-supported elementary grades.
- Health: First Pres purchases efficient wood burning ONIL Plancha stoves, which are installed in homes where cooking was previously done over open, unvented fires. First Pres members work alongside local church leaders to install the stoves and assure that the women know how to use them.
- Theological Education: The partnership addresses the ongoing need for theological studies for the pastors and other church leaders, most of whom are community leaders as well as spiritual leaders within their villages.
- Fellowship: Until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, First Pres delegations were visiting Guatemala at least annually. Visits resumed in 2022.
- Economic Development: The Coffee Microgrants are the partnership’s most direct investment in economic development. As a result of the peace accords that ended the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, many Mayan men and women were granted small plots of land, typically in the mountains, that are suitable for growing coffee. But the start-up costs of clearing the land and purchasing plants, fertilizer, fungicide, and insecticide are well beyond their means. The microgrants were created to fill that gap, enabling families to turn these small plots of land into productive assets that can change the trajectory of their lives.
Members of our partner presbytery who own land are eligible to receive a one-time microgrant of approximately $415 (the equivalent of about 2 months wages for the average man – women earn even less – in rural Guatemala). The grant recipients receive a portion of their grant as cash, which they typically use to hire people help with clearing their land and planting the coffee seedlings. The remaining funds are used to purchase the coffee plants, fertilizer, fungicide and insecticide in bulk. These items are distributed to the recipients by local church leaders, many of whom are experienced in coffee agriculture. The recipients attend classes on the proper care of their coffee fields to increase their chances of good harvests for the life of the trees, which is typically 16-20 years, after which they should be able to afford to replace the plants as needed. The impact of the Coffee Microgrant project reaches beyond the families receiving the grants. The recipients generally hire their neighbors and relatives to help clear the land and plant the coffee seedlings. They also hire these same people to help harvest the coffee each year, which spreads the money through these communities on an ongoing basis.
Thanks to the generous support of members and friends of the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County, over 270 impoverished Mayan families in Boca Costa have received a microgrant.