Coffee for peace

Written by
Chit U. Juan

Philstar Global

MANILA, Philippines – From a political activist to being a peace activist, Joji Pantoja knows what transformation can do to a person. Whether a farmer or an advocate, the change starts from within. And even in farming and planting coffee, the being, the self must first be whole to be able to commune with Nature. Sounds esoteric? Biblical? Even ethereal? That belief has made Joji convert coffee farmers into responsible community leaders and peace builders.

Up in Bansalan, Mt. Apo, 1,700 meters above sea level or similar Indigenous People’s areas,  Joji and her team can stay for about six weeks for the total training module. And all these to teach them how to farm and pick the best coffee available. Why six weeks? The training is not just about digging a hole, putting a seedling this high and watching it grow. The training involves values formation, before anything else.

And the coffee tastes good. My colleagues in the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBI) stopped by Joji’s outlet in Matina, Davao City where her café called Coffee For Peace is located. Open until 11 p.m. or sometimes until 2 a.m. so that those who may have had one too many can chug a cup of coffee before heading home, Joji proudly hosted us for late afternoon coffee.

Around the store you will see wall hangings from the Maranaw, Tala-andig musical instruments, a fishing cage used as a lampshade, a table with sewing machine bottoms. I was thrown back to Malate in the 1980s where eclectic cafés were in fashion. But the café envelops you in her cause – that of helping lumads or IPs become better coffee farmers, while also developing their inner selves.

We met a Canadian intern in the store and another American Mennonite intern in her processing center. These lads will stay with her for one year to eat and breathe the cultures of the IPs Joji works with. And mind you, as interns, they pay her for training. Good deal, don’t you think? She gets extra hands in the café or in her factory while getting paid to teach these youth.