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Peacemaking: From West Bank to West Side

When he was on the West Bank with a Christian Peacemaker Team in 2005, Chicago organizer Elce Redmond realized the problems people faced there were similar to those faced by people back home – and solutions might be similar too.

Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition, will give the opening keynote for CPT’s 25th anniversary Peacemaker Congress, Thursday, October 13 at 8 p.m. at Evanston Reba Place Church, 533 Custer.  The congress runs through Sunday the 16th.

In 2005, Redmond’s team was providing “peaceful accompaniment” for Palestinian schoolchildren who faced bullying and attacks by adults (“they were mostly from New York,” he says) living in Israeli settlements there.  “I was struck that the same situation happens on the West Side of Chicago, kids trying to get home from school and facing gangs and violence.”

Back home, Redmond began organizing the Austin Peaceforce, with parents and community volunteers trained in nonviolent strategies who are deployed to defuse conflicts and prevent violence.  Today they have a regular presence in Austin schools, including parent patrols after school.

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Fair trade coffee builds bonds

In 2004 world coffee prices slumped, and a coffee farmer in Mbale in eastern Uganda went door-to-door talking to his neighbors about forming a cooperative to boost their earnings.

The farmer, J.J. Keki, was a member of the Abayudaya, an indigenous Ugandan Jewish community which had survived persecution under Idi Amin, and the neighbors he organized included Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The co-op would help them economically and spread peace in the world, Keki said.

Today the Mirembe Kawomera Coffee Cooperative — the name means “delicious peace” — includes 700 farmers and remains firmly cross-confessional, with a Jewish president (Keki), a Muslim vice president and a Christian treasurer.

It’s the first certified fair trade coffee producer in Uganda, which means it uses ecologically sustainable agricultural practices and guarantee a living wage — cooperative members get about four times the price paid to farmers under the dominant trading system, according to the cooperative’s website. It’s an important model in a country where 90 percent of export revenues come from coffee production.

Members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston met and worshipped with an Abayudaya synagogue during a service trip to Uganda in 2005, and when they learned about the coffee cooperative after their return, they started selling its coffee, which is now among fair trade products featured in a new gift shop. Now the congregation is joining with Chicago Fair Trade to host members of the cooperative on a visit to Chicago.

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