Today’s post comes to us from Katie Barrow, Senior Manager of Communications at Fair Trade USA. During her four years with the organization, she has had the privilege of meeting dozens of female heroes within the Fair Trade movement, making International Women’s Day  (March 8) one of her favorite days of the year.
International Women’s Day has a special place in the hearts of Fair Trade USA employees and partner brands. That’s because many of us have had the opportunity to meet and be inspired by the multitude of incredible women that are part of the Fair Trade movement. From the farmer who is a mother of ten healthy kids to the co-op leaders and the rising stars and Presidents of companies in the United States, strong women are (dare I say?) the backbone of our industry.
In honor of this very important holiday, I am excited to share the story of an amazing young woman I met on a recent trip to the Guatemalan highlands: Patrocina “Paty” Campseco. I was lucky enough to spend a few days with Paty in her small community of Jacaltenango before joining her in Guatemala City for the International Women’s Coffee Association ’s 3nd International Convention.
Patrocina Campseco, age 28 – Jacaltenango, Guatemala
Paty is a health promoter at the CODECH  coffee cooperative located in the highlands of Guatemala, near the Mexican border. Her passion for healthcare and health education come from her personal history with cancer: when she was just 15, she began having frequent headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was not expected to survive. During the chemo treatments, she made a vow that if she lived, she would dedicate her life to helping other women survive related illnesses and promote the early detection of cancer. In a community where women are not encouraged to attend school, she was determined to beat the odds: she washed clothes and worked as a maid in order to finish high school and start nursing school.
Just two years into nursing school, Paty learned that her father had cancer in his eye. He was unable to continue working, so she moved back home to help her parents. The burden of paying for her dad’s healthcare fell to her, and Paty was no longer able to afford the tuition at her nursing school. She had to leave school with just 1.5 years left in the program.
But this setback didn’t stop her from fulfilling her promise: Last year, the members of the CODECH Coffee Cooperative  voted to spend Fair Trade premiums on a health program  and they hired Paty to be the leader. In her dream job as Health Promoter, she provides basic health care and health education to members and their families. Because of their lack of education and sheer distance from medical care facilities, Paty distributes medications and provides medical advice to members in their homes. She does all of this on foot – walking from village to village, rain or shine.
Through her house visits, Paty found an incredible need and opportunity to change the strong-rooted gender discrimination that is prevalent in the community. She started by hosting gender workshops for women and their husbands, and then she helped to establish a women’s committee within the cooperative. Through the committee, women are able to sell their own coffee and, for the first time, be paid directly for their work. Historically, any income that the women earned would be paid to their husbands.
During my visit, I was able to sit in on a meeting on the women’s committee. About 30 women had walked 1-2 hours in the rain to arrive at the 8am meeting. Many of them signed the meeting roster with a thumb print, rather than writing their name, because of the illiteracy that is prevalent in the region. Women are not encouraged to learn Spanish, so Paty conducted most of the meeting in a Mayan language. It was obvious how much the women of the cooperative respected her, despite being twice her age. Her achievements in education and gender equality have given them hope that their daughters will grow up in world where they, too, can achieve their dreams.
“My reason for living is to help the women in my community see a better future and to make sure that my dad survives.” - Paty
As you can imagine, Paty left a lasting impression on everyone she met at the IWCA conference in Guatemala City. It was a venue where she was able to share her struggles and wishes and ask for help. She believes that the best way to help the women of her community is to sell more Fair Trade Certified coffee  – after all, it is the Fair Trade premium that funds her vital role in the cooperative.
As for her personal wishes, Paty hopes to finish nursing school and continue to bring health education to her community. In order to assist her with her studies and her work with the CODECH women’s committee, BUNN was kind enough donate her first-ever computer, which she is very excited receive this month. PowerPoint is the first program she wants to learn so that she can enhance her presentations to the cooperative.
I look forward to following Paty’s story. In addition to being a shining star within her community, she is an inspiration to women worldwide.