Sometimes there’s no better way to hash things out with someone you’re not getting along with than talking over a cup of coffee.
That is the simple philosophy behind Coffee for Peace, an organization started in 2006 by Peacebuilders Community Inc., a Mennonite Church-supported mission in the Philippines.
Peacebuilders has facilitated informal conflict mediation between migrant and Bangsamoro farming communities.
The resulting partnership has blossomed after members of the community were trained in how to grow and process their own high-quality coffee.
Joji Pantoja, a Canadian on a mission in the Philippines with Peacebuilders, was inspired to take the concept of talking over coffee to new places.
She and fellow Peacebuilders members Tala Bautista and Boyet Ongkiko were in Niagara-on-the-Lake over the past week, speaking at the Niagara United Mennonite Church on Niagara Stone Road.
A meet-and-greet social event was also held for the group to meet with members of the community.
The income from the sales of the coffee helps the local population as well as Peacebuilders Community Inc.
This initiative could be a means of bringing peace to communities as well as become a commodity produced to benefit marginalized communities in the island country’s south.
“It is something that brings the message of peace through coffee, because it encourages conversation, dialogue between two conflicting parties,” Pantoja said.
Farmers were taught more than how to pick and roast beans, Pantoja said. They learned how to facilitate improved relationships with others.
“We introduce peace and reconciliation, conflict management, conflict resolution, integrated into coffee farming,” Pantoja said.
And it has had an impact.
Bautista said the head of a company that had cut down trees on the land of an Indigenous tribe and was growing bananas sought an end to decades of conflict between the two parties.
Recognizing the company was doing business on what was traditionally tribal land, he presented the tribe with an idea – return the land to them, the company lease the land for their business or the two parties share in any profits.
That was 2011: now, the two sides are now working together, growing and processing coffee.
“And now the leaders of this enterprise are the younger people, the next generation and they’re really into incorporating the indigenous values in the enterprise as they have,” Bautista said.
Pantoja, meanwhile, said more work needs to be done.
“I’m 63 years old so I have two more years to work before my retirement. In preparation for that retirement, we are trying to put up a permanent place for peace builders, community and coffee for peace, where we can train more and multiply more workers that would advance the message of peace and the culture of peace,” she said.
That is why she is working with Ongkiko, who will assume Pantoja’s responsibilities when she calls it a day.
Ongkiko has been with the Peacebuilders since 2010 and was recently named to the group’s leadership team.
He is undaunted about the tasks ahead of him.
“I was already (teaching) in my previous work so it’s just a matter of doing the same thing, but now, doing it with so much passion. I can see how it will continue what Peacebuilders is doing, plus how transformation will really happen in the communities,” he said.
In her mind, Pantoja feels the work has only just begun.
“We have thought of other countries that are in conflict and we are dreaming to bring this model to other countries because you cannot talk about peace and the people have empty stomachs,” she said.
It won’t be easy, though.
“It is hard to sell, because peace is a concept that you cannot grasp. It’s just like looking for a black cat in a dark room.”
Dorothea Enns, who along with husband, Rudy, were hosting the trio while they were in NOTL, said their guests made an impression on all they met, herself included.
She noted that Bautista being an Indigenous person in the Philippines made her stop and think about Canada’s Indigenous population.
At the meet and greet, Bautista met the Enns’ neighbour, who is Indigenous.
“(The neighbour) brought a picture and also a special jacket that her father had and she did the beadwork on. Tala showed her some of their traditional tribal clothing and the significance of that, and that was a really amazing moment,” Enns said.