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May 4, 2015
2nd Annual Specialty Coffee Competition
Story by Dr. Karen Rasmussen and Vibrant Village Foundation staff

Approaching the small villages of Santa María Yucuhiti municipality by car, a one-lane dirt road dips and curves around a landscape of trees with moss beards. At 5,600 feet, the region is a place ripe for coffee production—one of the principal productive activities of the people who live here. The municipality is home to Mixteca Specialty Coffee (or Café maa va’a nuu Ñuu Savi, in the local Mixtec language), a project supported by Vibrant Village Foundation.

Coffee producers check their cupping scores.

Sunday, February 22nd marked the Second Annual Mixteca Alta Specialty Coffee Competition in the village of Reyes Llano Grande. This village of approximately 300 people is today a hive of activity, with over 100 attendees, three times the attendance last year. Producers, buyers, coffee aficionados and the press arrive from neighboring villages and cities as far as Oaxaca, over 6 hours’ drive, to participate in the event.  

The gathering marks a second year of tremendous work for the Specialty Coffee project, which, under the guidance of Director Dr. Karen Rasmussen, is benefitting local coffee producers in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Southern México. The Mixteca Specialty Coffee Project offers training in the cultivation, harvest and processing of specialty coffee to producers from marginalized villages where indigenous families live and work. The goal of the project is to increase the quality and quantity of coffee to increase prices, sales and overall household income for growers and their families.

Coffee buyers tasting local coffee.

While Mexico hosts the Cup of Excellence, an international specialty coffee competition, a regional event such as this one had never been held in Mexico in such remote, indigenous communities before the Specialty Coffee Project arrived. 

Clemente Santiago Paz, an agricultural engineer and coffee production consultant explained, “The minimum volume requirements, as well as registration costs for national and state coffee competitions are a real obstacle for small producers, like the ones in this region.” This regional competition has a lower minimum coffee requirement for a coffee producer — 40 kilos in comparison to 172.5 kilos and is held locally, which makes it more feasible for producers to attend.

Coffee growers discuss the results of the competition. 

In addition to the increased accessibility for small producers, the Mixteca Alta Competition affords producers and buyers an opportunity for direct exchange. Producers have the chance to promote their coffee with the public, and have conversations with buyers. Carlos, a buyer from Oaxaca commented, “A coffee’s origin is really important in the industry. This project as a whole, and especially this event, has created a stronger and friendlier relationship between buyers and producers, as well as between producers in the region.” 

A coffee grower and buyer signing their first sales contract. 

That direct contact adds up to higher prices for quality coffee, and relationships that ensure producers have access to a valuable market for the long-term. Knowing the story behind a kilo of coffee helps buyers sell to their clients and promote the Mixteca Alta region as a place where specialty coffee is grown. 

According to Abigail González, another local buyer, “Having a direct relationship also allows us to ensure that the higher value we are paying for quality goes directly into the hands of the producer, and not to an intermediary.” 

3rd place winner Marciano Filogonio Aparicio Lopez with his certificate and prize money.

The winner this year is Onesimo Elias García Pérez from the community of San Isidrio Paz y Progreso. In a short speech he explained, “Our coffee is ignored by the industry. Thank God for this competition. It inspires us to keep going.  And that’s what we need—something to inspire us to continue to improve.” 

The second place scorer for Female Coffee, Florencia Heriberta López García, says with a smile, “I am so happy seeing my score. I’m aiming for even higher next year.  I will push myself, or die in the attempt!” She is 78 years old. 

Coffee growing women placed well at the competition too.  

According to Paz, “The event represents an emotional and economic acknowledgement for these producers and the region. I see the great satisfaction of the producers to have this space to recognize their efforts and highlight their coffee. It is a strong motivator for producers to continue improving the quality of their coffee.” 


April 21, 2015
Safe Spaces for Children in Refugee Camps

This story was adapted from a recent report prepared by Mercy Corps staff

In 2014, Vibrant Village Foundation granted $103,961 to Mercy Corps for the construction of child-friendly spaces at the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, more than 600,000 refugees have entered into Jordan seeking safety. The Syrian families who have been displaced have had their lives and social structures substantially disrupted. They have often witnessed violence and disturbing events, and many are now far from their relatives and friends. Stress, fear and anxiety among children and parents can contribute to domestic violence, abuse and neglect, especially for women and children. 

In this context, it was crucial to establish child-friendly spaces in refugee camps to provide opportunities for kids to play, learn and receive social support in a safe and protective environment. 


In February, Mercy Corps completed the construction of four playgrounds in the child friendly spaces, with funding from Vibrant Village Foundation. These playgrounds provide safe places for up to 150 children each day, where they are protected from harm and can reinstate some sense of normalcy. 

The spaces also provide opportunity for children to play and socialize with other children and develop life skills. All spaces are open six days a week and staffed by Mercy Corps trained Syrian volunteers. These incredibly valuable team members provide a number of direct activities for the children including structured psychosocial activities such as arts and crafts projects and storytelling. Syrian volunteers also support community outreach within the camps, working directly with Mercy Corps Community Child Protection Committees. These committees are responsible for spreading awareness on child protection and available facilities and services.

Zayed (photographed left) is a twenty-two year old volunteer with the program. From his perspective, these child-friendly spaces are helping the children from “being lost”. As he explains, “After installing the play complex, the number of children is higher than before – it has become a part of motivation for them.” 

In the original program plan, the playgrounds were to have a sand ground cover. However, the sand requires continual maintenance and can blow away in the high summer winds. Mercy Corps is exploring artificial grass turf as a longer-lasting option. In addition to being more durable, the artificial turf adds much needed color to the barren, sandy landscape of the camp. The green on its own has a soothing and calming feeling, a bit of artificial nature in an otherwise desolate setting.              

Photos: Courtesy of Mercy Corps


March 12, 2015
Raising greenhouses & tomatoes in Nepal

Anita Dilmaya is a 35-year-old farmer from the village of Sunkhani in central Nepal. She and her husband struggle to support their three children with the small amount of maize and rice she harvests from her farmland. To make ends meet, Anita most recently worked as a temporary farm laborer for a nearby commercial vegetable farm and her husband took a part-time job in the local school cafeteria.

Last year, in Anita’s village, Vibrant Village Foundation began a three-year partnership with Nepal-based nonprofit, Society for Environmental Conservation and Agricultural Research and Development (SECARD). The livelihoods and organic gardening project has engaged Anita, and other village residents like her, in trainings on organic gardening, bio-pest management and reducing chemical inputs. She is an active member of her local farmers’ group and has recently begun her own small-scale commercial farming, applying her newly gained skills.

With SECARD’s help, Anita built a small greenhouse on her property where she grows tomatoes, beans and other vegetables. SECARD provided the bamboo and plastic, and neighboring farmers took turns helping assemble their structures. For the first time, she is selling excess produce, and has earned a substantial income from her vegetable farm. 

In her first year, Anita has sold about 300 kilograms of tomatoes, bringing in $200 of income. She says, “With this extra income earned from the commercial vegetable production from my own land, we do not need to hire out our labor to tiresome work at a much lower rate.”