What I love about the work of Mocha Club is uncovering the opportunity and potential that exists as a part of the human spirit. I entered this work like many – wanting to change the world – and continue to be struck at how much bigger that concept is than one person. So what is my piece? What am I to lend my hand to, to lower my shoulder, to dig in, to leverage my voice for?
I’m going to champion the boundless opportunity and possibility – the flourishing and quality of life that is already happening in the places crowded with hunger, desperate in need, struck and stuck in poverty. I want to walk into the room, paint a picture that is so unlike what you were expecting from a non profit president, invite you to the party, and drop the mic. Its so much more amazing than you could ever dream. (and its more horrifying than words could articulate). Where my western privilege, my graduate education, my religious affiliation taught me to see need; I discovered solutions. Where you see desperation, we see opportunity. We believe that every human being is endowed with value, dignity, skill, and creativity. No matter their age. No matter their condition. No matter their zip code. No matter their education.
And we have a choice. One life-altering, world changing choice. We can choose to leverage all of who we are for one another. To fight for, to include, to passionately dream and pursue, to express, to honor, to champion opportunity and possibility for ourselves and the world around us. The truth is – that’s what makes for a quality of life we all aspire to. That’s what unleashes human potential and drives human flourishing.
A word from Mocha Club President, Emily Blackledge:
You’ve heard us say it over and over: you can make a difference simply by giving up the cost of a few mochas a month. But we’ll be the first to tell you – there’s no comparison between what you give and what you get.
While your lack of caffeine is temporary, your impact is not. Why? Because Mocha Club is dedicated to making sure your mochas matter long-term. Here’s how:
1. Collaborative Relationships : “We” is our favorite pronoun.
If you have been engaged with an organization or visited some of their work and you only hear “us,” “them,” “theirs,” or “mine,” it is a telling example of a group divided. Without shared values, a common vision and dreams, the work being done belongs to only part of the group. In the long run, these projects and partnerships tend to end poorly. Mocha Club’s strategy is different. Your mochas help provide education for local leaders in the form of a community development course of study — a course co-created by representatives from multiple African countries that takes these leaders through the process of identifying, prioritizing, and addressing community needs. The local community development class in Mvera that proposed the water project we told you about on World Water Day spent months surveying neighbors, friends, family, local businesses, schools, and more to get to a consensus on the greatest need in their area. Not the greatest need for one part of the village or the greatest need to one segment of society or even the greatest need as assessed by Mocha Club – the greatest need for the community as a whole, identified by the community as a whole. A community ceremony was just held to lay the foundation stone for the new water project. Here you see traditional leaders, church leaders, police and the Malawi Defence Force, government officials, and local residents. All turned out to collectively celebrate the beginning of the project. Mvera’s original well was built by missionaries and not owned by the community. This time around, “we” is who owns the project – everyone was involved in naming the need and finding a solution, each household will register to use the water and contribute a monthly fee to pay for upkeep and maintenance, and a local committee will be nominated to oversee the project’s continued success. When Mvera residents are still enjoying clean water decades from now, it’s your mochas that made it so.
2. Meaningful Impact: We know who calls the shots.
And it’s not the group of us sitting in offices here in the United States. One of the reasons Mvera has a water shortage is because it is in a hilly area full of rocks and the water springs dry out during the dry season. The other reason is man made. Mvera is in the Dowa district of Malawi – a district that Leonard, our local Country Director, tells us was “the first district in Malawi created by colonial masters” and means “a place of wild animals.” The well in Mvera was originally dug by missionaries. What was once 36 meters deep and fully functional turned into 7 meters deep and not at all sufficient for the community. Local Malawians didn’t determine its location, they weren’t trained on its upkeep, they weren’t involved at any point of the well’s life cycle. During its research, the community development class in Mvera discovered several potential needs during a social analysis – employment, education, health care. But because they approached the situation from a place of “we,” the community of Mvera determined on its own that the most pressing problem was the water shortage. It makes perfect sense — why would a group of people from a different culture, speaking a different language, be able to determine the best course of action for a community halfway across the world? How would my community know if the next best tool for the Mvera community is a grade school or a water well or a pig farm? Your mochas matter because the people calling the shots are the ones on the ground, the ones that know their communities inside and out.
3. Creative Solutions: We build with what we have.
An accurate understanding of reality is important, but leading with the worst qualities doesn’t really inspire anyone’s participation. We already know that without everyone’s engagement, without “we,” development isn’t sustainable. When strategy is focused on what is working – assets to build on, tools that already exist – you can do things you had no idea could be done. For example, in researching the options for a water solution in Mvera, the local class discovered that they already had much of what they needed – river sand, rocks, quarry stones, manpower, and expertise. They consulted professional builders in the community, engineers, the local electricity supplier, a pipe company, and the local government. Once this project is complete, they’ve already dreamed of building on it and expanding access to more and more people. Building with what you have attracts others (and their talents and resources) to join the dream. Asset-based development makes your mochas matter long into the future.
I am glad to report that the Mvera water project is progressing well. After the laying of the Foundation Stone, people in the community began the work and it has been very successful. Right now the community is mobilizing locally available resources for the construction of the tank (water reservoir). Here are photos showing the laying of the foundation stone and the actual work beginning. – Leonard Chipangano, Malawi Country Director
REFUGEE: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.
This definition has been my understanding of a refugee for years and the images we see on US television paint a grim reality that thousands endure each year as they are impacted by the trauma forcing them from their homes.
In February, I was able to go and visit Mocha Club’s Country Director and staff who are working in northern Uganda with refugees fleeing the war in South Sudan. As we began our drive into the camps, my heart was ready for what my head was sure I was about to encounter.
Our journey led us to Adjumani, Uganda where I first met Anthony, an older man with a kind smile who looked to be in his late sixties. He was standing in front of the tarped structure he now calls home. Last September, when the fighting got close to his village in South Sudan, he sent his mother, his wife, and his five young children to safety in Uganda. He stayed behind, separated from his loved ones, salvaging what he could of their farm until army rebels took over three months later, forcing him to flee.
As Anthony shared his story, I could see the fear and heartbreak he had lived through on his face. He was not sure what he would find as he crossed the Nile and made his way to the processing tent at Adjumani where all new refugees must go to get registered and ask about their relatives. Did his mother survive the trek three months ago? Were all of his children still alive? Would his wife be there? It’s a reality I truly can’t fathom.
Anthony’s story lined up with what I have seen on TV or witnessed in other camps before. I had expected Adjumani to be unfathomable: hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees; makeshift communities dotted with tarped roofs; tons of stories just like Anthony’s.
I’ve been in many places like this before – places where poverty, war and trauma are overwhelming and it looks like – it feels like – all hope is lost. In these camps, there is a tension that exists and becomes normal. Refugee vs. Peacekeeper. Refugee vs. Refugee. Refugee vs. Local. This tension is often even tangibly represented by a huge fence around the camp – not to keep refugees safe, but to keep them in. In this reality, a refugee is fighting to survive – they never even dream about thriving.
Adjumani is different.
As Tito, our South Sudan Country Director, showed me around, I began to see things I had not expected. I saw smiles, I saw community, I saw – HOPE. Tito pointed out opportunity, vision, dreams, and plans for a future here. He was breathing hope to life.
I struggled to reconcile what I had expected with what was right in front of me, then it hit me… these people’s lives had been entirely wrecked, forever altered. But they were finally at a place where they could stop running.
Hundreds of thousands of people like Anthony had fought to make it here. But when they arrived, they found kindness and were offered land next to their Ugandan neighbors. I was able to ask several Ugandans, “Why are you so willing to share your land, your schools, your economy with so many South Sudanese refugees?” Their response? “Because ten years ago, they did that for us.”
For decades, this region has lived with civil war, with night commutes and child soldiers. Where we see a line separating South Sudan and Uganda, they don’t see anything. They lived here long before that line was drawn; they’ve been neighbors for centuries; they’ve hosted each other in times of crisis. And they continue to do so — because when all else fails, community remains.
I now had a new understanding and appreciation for refugees. While what I saw was different than my expectations, it did not diminish the very real needs, which are still present. Remember those tarp roofs? Tito shared with us that they only last three months and an immediate need in the refugee community is to find a solution for them.Thanks to you and the Mocha Club community we have been able to provide zinc roofs for many of the refugee families.
Oh, and Anthony? His family is one that will benefit from the zinc roofs – the roofs that are a result of your mochas. That’s me, Anthony, and his wife Betty in front of their current home, tarp and all. Soon that tarp will be replaced by the zinc sheets he has received. And for the next ten years, those zinc sheets – your mochas – will be the solid roof over his family in this community that has become their home.
I asked Tito what was next – for the refugees and for how Mocha Club could support them beyond a solid roof under which their families could lay their heads. He said he dreams of a place where they can rest their hearts as well. So he is beginning to teach these refugees how to walk through their stories of trauma and loss and begin to heal.
Have you ever thought about how the places you live and work and enjoy were once just an idea in someone’s head? Think about your school, your home, your favorite coffeeshop. They all began with a dream; a hope to support the life and joy of your community.
During MC Journey 2016, this awareness transformed our 12-day trip into a deeply meaningful experience. Each and every place we visited held a special memory — chatting with students and teachers at New Dawn, dancing with the women at HEKO while rain fell around our shelter, sitting on the sunlit porch at the Women at Risk recalling the darkness of the drive we took the night before — but more than anything, I loved hearing stories of how and why it all began.
Before our visit to each organization, we sat across the table from their founders as they graciously shared their personal journey leading to the realization of a need in their community. We had the privilege of hearing how places like New Dawn, HEKO, and Women and Risk were once dreams, turned into reality, and sustained by the support of every Mocha Club member. Can you imagine walking into a place for the very first time with that understanding of its history?
The hardest work you will do on your MC Journey will be to let go of your expectations and be fully present during every conversation, every story, every offer of service given to you. You will most certainly do more listening than labor. You will come to find that you are there not to serve, but be served. You will so clearly see how one cup of coffee supports African leaders with a vision for loving their community. You will see how one cup plants hope in many who felt hopeless, and how another empowers them to live independently in health and financial stability. But most importantly, you will be filled to the brim with a joy so moving I can hardly put it into words. Go. Go and see the power of a mocha.
It’s been almost 4 months since I tried to enter the back door of Mocha Club and eventually found the front door of our lovely office. I drove 8 hours the day before from Virginia and all of my belongings for the next 4 months still filled my car. I walked into the office and began. As it often does, the time rushed past and now I have about a week left in Nashville. As I think back on these months spent in the South, I consider what I learned.
I learned a lot of things, but the most important one that will affect my work and life is about how to relate to other people. I deeply respect the way that Mocha Club staff members operate by working closely with African leaders. They make these leaders’ dreams their own and work with them toward their goals with a posture of humility and respect. I could go on about the many other things I learned through being here day to day, or talk about how every person at the office showed me kindness and included me, but that might make for a long post. So I’ll stop here and just say that as I pack my bags, I will be taking more with me than when I came—things that I cannot pack in my car, lessons that will stay with me all of my life.
I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote based on a quote by one of our partners in Africa. May you be blessed and spread the blessing.
“The name of that place is actually Tumbe . . ., which means a place for rejected people, but God spoke to us and told us these people are not rejected, they should not be called rejected, they should not live with the name of rejection, so we said we are going to call this place Blessed Camp.” –Peter O O’chiel (Action Ministry)
The first word of the first Psalm
In my English Bible reads “blessed.”
A foundation of identity, something I
Have always been without knowing.
Ignorance is hard to shake
But it is not the kind of knowledge we
Think we need that will save us.
We think we are damned—
And we’re right, sort of.
We think we are unworthy—
And there is a hint of reality in that bitter delusion.
We think we are rejected—
And we could not be further (and nearer) to the truth.
I’ve asked this question to a number of my colleagues here at Mocha since beginning my internship three months ago. What brought you to this organization? Why this nonprofit, rather than another? Why work at a nonprofit at all? I’ve phrased the question in different ways each time, but really there’s one thing I want to know: tell me, how passionate are you about what you do? How invested are you in Mocha’s vision?
If you’re anything like me, you tend to approach nonprofits with a critical eye. There are many pitfalls that go along with aid work in developing countries, particularly when that work is cross-cultural in nature. (I’ll point you, not for the first time, to books like When Helping Hurts and documentaries such as Poverty, Inc because they’ve been so helpful to me in understanding such challenges.) Doing work that is truly good, helpful, and sustainable is never easy. So when I think about the initiatives I want to support, both financially and with my time, I tend to start with a bit of cynicism, and I ask a lot of questions.
An internship is, by nature, rather like just skimming the surface of an organization. So during my time here at the Mocha Club, I’ve tried to ask questions, to dive deeper. I keep asking: why are you here? Why work at a place like the Mocha Club?
And you know what? My coworkers really believe in the work that the Mocha Club is doing. They keep looking back at me with excited eyes and telling me about what they love most. One talks about Mocha Club’s work with our artist partners, and how beautiful it is to work hand-in-hand and face-to-face with artists to unite their musical pursuits with the opportunity to support a good cause. Some talk about how the transparency of the organization makes it easy to see where your donations go; others speak on how much they believe in the value of the pastor training, orphan care, and the other projects that Mocha Club supports in Africa. I’ve had many conversations about the challenges of working cross-culturally—with, not for, the poor—and more than one coworker has voiced the importance of listening and of humility.
Forgive me if this all sounds like a pitch. Because here’s the thing: my internship with this lovely group of people is about to conclude—in fact, this is my last post on this blog. And this is what I’d love to leave you with. Believe in the good heart, the effectiveness, and the humility of the work that Mocha Club is doing in Africa. Believe in the people that send you emails, invite you to support new initiatives, and answer the phone when you call the office. When you join the Club, you’re joining a pretty special thing.
Economics is not my thing, not my strong point, quite frankly not my delight. Among all the subjects I studied in school, that one fit least well into the mold of my particular brain. I struggled to grasp the concepts presented during the last semester of my senior year of high school. I never took an Econ class in college, but I cracked open a book the other day and all things economics tumbled out: statistics and terms that I don’t use on a regular basis in my own financial context. Although I struggled to make sense of what the author conveyed at times,, I ultimately came away from the book as a grateful reader. Hang with me through the next few paragraphs and I’ll explain why.
Dambisa Moya wrote this book, titled Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, because she tired of seeing her native continent inundated in money that brought harm rather than betterment. (To clarify, the aid she mentions has little to do with international nongovernmental organizational (INGO) work. She refers to governments (generally Western) dumping funds on African governments.) Even if you’re not a “numbers person” this statistic might shock you: “Since the 1940s, approximately US$1 trillion of aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. This is nearly US$1,000 for every man, woman and child on the planet today” (pg 35). That’s 1,000,000,000,000 dollars. Twelve zeros. Wow.
Moya explains the situation by giving a brief history of aid and then explaining why aid has not achieved the goals it set out to accomplish. In a section titled “The vicious cycle of aid,” she enlightens the reader about how this happens:
Foreign aid props up corrupt governments – providing them with freely usable cash. These corrupt governments interfere with the rule of law, the establishment of transparent civil institutions and the protection of civil liberties, making both domestic and foreign investment in poor countries unattractive. Greater opacity and fewer investments reduce economic growth, which leads to fewer job opportunities and increasing poverty levels. In response to growing poverty, donors give more aid, which continues the downward spiral of poverty (pg 49).
Whew! If you’re anything like me, this sounds a little overwhelming. Thankfully, Moya doesn’t stop here. She gives more details about this corruption and its relationship to aid. Then she turns to providing alternatives for African countries: issuing bonds, finding investors, obtaining a credit rating, borrowing from institutions other than the World Bank in part to build credibility, and trading with other countries inside and outside the African continent. Moya spends a good amount of pages on current Chinese investment in Africa (which I found to be very interesting).
Ultimately, her recommendation is to cut out aid incrementally over a five year period until a country no longer receives any. She says that the general population of Africa won’t suffer as much as the reader might think because so much of the aid money is going to a small number of powerful people in African government positions anyway. If donor countries cut aid, African governments will be forced to stand on their own two feet and find ways to replace that money through the suggestions listed above.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, you’re reading this on Mocha Club’s blog, so chances are that you care about Africa and its people. If you truly care about something, you generally invest time, money, or some other element of life into it. I’m not about to suggest that we all need to be economic scholars in order to care about Africa. But what I am suggesting is that education is important. If you care about something and want to see change, educate yourself about that issue. Start by reading one news article per day or following organizations you care about on social media.
Even though I’m not a huge economics fan, this discipline is integral to international development, so it’s worth my time to invest in learning a little bit about it. Take the plunge, friends: Pick up that book, scroll through that article, ask a friend about their life experience. You never know; economics might just be your thing.
Driving through the urban areas of Ethiopia, rain is flooding the streets. Houses are made of mud and straw, there is little shelter, and the water runs into homes and businesses as they try to salvage what they can, hanging items on clothes lines and stacking on their shoulders and heads. I can’t help but to think about the struggle in that! Who knows how long it will rain, everything is soaking wet, once it is finished, they have to re-patch walls, hang up clothes to dry, and find a way to make up for the time their business was slow due to people taking shelter.
We allow our odds to define us, to tell us how we should feel, and how our actions will look. When one thing goes against our will, against our plan, interrupts our day or our lives, even if everything else is going our way, our moods change. A scowl forms, and we no longer feel a sense of joy. We lack understanding, want immediate answers, and refuse to look up until we do.
An Ethiopian woman is walking across the rock covered railroad in the rain with no shoes, sopping wet, but is grateful for rain water to clean herself off with when she reaches her destination. An Ethiopian man is ankle high in mud in the fields, praising God for the rain in order for his crops to grow. The Ethiopian Shepherd has a smile on his face as his flock now has water to drink from which provides energy to keep moving. And the Ethiopian children are splashing in the rain puddles, covered in mud and all you see and hear is a vibrant smile and innocent laughter. Where we see odds, others see blessings.
My spring here at Mocha Club has been such an enjoyable and valuable experience. I have grown as a person through what I have learned both through action and observation.
I have grown in both confidence and understanding through this internship, and I am constantly learning. Each task has offered me lessons in persistence, patience, creativity, and balance. I get as much out of tagging scarves and typing names and addresses into Excel documents as I do when I write Mochatern Monday posts or craft pictures for social media. Everything I have done has been made better by the thought of how my duties are contributing to a larger, beautiful, giving picture.
I have learned so much from the Mocha Club team- what it means to spend one’s life in service to others, what it means to care for people so very removed from our personal world, what it means to love people because they are people. There is something about these people that I don’t think you can find everywhere. Humility. Dedication. Faith. The belief that what they are doing really matters. The continual knowledge that people need them. It’s a beautiful way in which they live.
Our team at Mocha Club loves working and living in Nashville, Tennessee – a place known for it’s community and the inspiration from it’s members. These individuals are the best in their craft and we want to share them with you! This blog series features locals that inspire us through their unique/beautiful/innovative…we could go on and on..approach to life, business and community. We love their businesses and want to showcase them in this new series – where simply, we want to inspire others by what inspires us.
1.What motivated you to start your business and how has it grown since it began?
I grew up drawing and painting, my mom was an art teacher. Art had always been around me and part of my life. When I was 13 I stumbled upon a very dinky digital camera, maybe a quarter of a megapixel in resolution. Although I never figured out how to take the photos off of the camera, I’ just delete them and keep shooting, I was hooked! Not long after I got a plastic film camera from Walgreens and started shooting film for the next year or so until I got a 1 megapixel canon digital elph for christmas one year.
My story and evolution as a photographer continues in this smooth natural trend. The older I got the more I would learn and the more I lobed to shoot! In high school I realized I could make money shooting bands and my senior friends and soon after started into the world of editorial, shooting for magazines. My business grew up with me and again very naturally became a sustainable business. Everything changed when my wife and I moved to Nashville, that’s when things got real and I saw the most growth at the fastest rate!
2.How has the Nashville community embraced your business?
Nashville has been wonderful! I took meetings my fist week in town and still to this day shoot for clients I met with that first week. I’ve also met photographers, much more seasoned than I, who have taken interest in me and given me more wisdom and guidance in how this works than I could have ever asked for!
3.Is there any way that your business has given back, to the community or in some other way?
I have tried to give back the knowledge and time that those seasoned photographers gave to me. I like to help young photographers and try and set them on the right path.
4.What is special about the way you shoot and why do you do it this way?
I like my shoots to be fun #1 and secondly I want them to be personal, I want my subjects personality to really shine through! For me if it isn’t fun then there is no point in doing it! I Shoot because it’s fun to me, I thoroughly enjoy it and I want people on set to feel that and join in!
5.Where does all of your experience and knowledge of photography come from?
I have had people in my life that have graciously given their time to teach me this and that and give me advice and honest critiques on my work! That played a big part in it! After that it’s trial and error. I shoot ALL THE TIME! If I don’t have a job one weekend I’m grabbing an artist buddy and shooting him for fun and also to try new things. It’s pretty much practice for my client gigs. Always stay sharp and keep learning!