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Sunday
Aug142011

Second Visit to Grenada : June 2011

Monday, June 27th, 2011 5:30am

Please note that, to protect the children, their names have been changed, and no photos exposing children's identities can be used.

As the sun rises on Grenada, I am swept with gratitude. I have fallen madly in love with this island. I am five hours south of New York and a hundred miles north of Venezuela. I look into my future and see a lifetime of passionate collaborative work unfold. I am sitting on the porch after a sleepless night of work while inside the volunteers, staff, and founder of REACH Grenada sleep for a few more hours before we mobilize for another day with the most at-risk children of Grenada at their emergency shelters.

Childhood has already been stolen from these boys and girls. Orphaned or abandoned, many of them have been sexually abused, prostituted, beaten, and raped of their innocence. Why were we there? To love them, hug them, do yoga with them, show them breathing exercises and teach them how to play the piano and paint with stencils on the wall. To show them good people exist who hug rather than beat, and smile rather than suffocate.

Even though I worked straight through the night, I’m brimming with excitement and gratitude as I envision a lifetime ahead of inspired collaboration helping children and  empowering others to do the same.

How did I wind up in this sunrise on this porch?  

It began in December of 2009, when I launched Gnosis’s Raw Integrity Project and first traveled to Grenada to meet with my friend, Mott Green, owner of the Grenada Chocolate Company.  Our conversations were stimulating and substantial (I learned so much from Mott) and I harvested cacao side-by-side with farmers for the first time.  It was on that trip that I first met an orphan who had been prostituted by his mother and abandoned. He was taken under the care of Mott’s friend, and I immediately donated what I had to show my support.  This experience showed me the side of Grenada that resulted from the high unemployment and economic distress Mott told me about. I was excited to work with Mott to develop our Grenada OrigiNib bar because I believe that supporting a country’s organic agriculture is the strongest and most sustainable way to improve their economy. I knew this wasn’t the last time I’d be on Grenada.
 
Shortly after returning to the States, my friend Clay Gordon introduced me to Neo Moreton and Karen Lawson, Co-Founders of REACH Grenada, and I was thrilled to find that I was not the only person passionate about Grenada and doing all I could to help. REACH Grenada was founded in 2008; its mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of Grenada's most vulnerable children.  REACH Grenada  primarily works with children residing in  Grenada's institutional care homes.  Many were previously victims of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, neglect, and abandonment. Its multi-dimensional programs include therapeutic services, yoga and meditation, and a host of other activities that promote children's long-term healthy development and seek to alleviate the effects of childhood adversity.   
 

REACH’s mentoring and caregiver training and support programs are based on the core value of sustainable change: not teaching caregivers how but rather drawing out and reinforcing their innate abilities to care and teach that are borne of - and nurtured in - the Grenadian culture.


Last night, as we left the police station where we got driving licenses, Karen Lawson, REACH’s Founder pointed across the street and said, “That's where my husband died, where his spirit ascended from his body- a place that I come back to again and again to feel the peaceful embrace of something far greater than us.  It is this that drives my work, framed so simply by the First Panchen Lama when he said, 'Giving and taking ride on the wind, freeing every living being from the sea of pain.'

“Life's sorrow can indeed be transformed to open doors never before imagined,” she continued. “Losing Bart gave birth to REACH Grenada's mission to help the island's most vulnerable children through programs that offer healing and hope.  We accomplish this by building a community of like-minded 'givers and doers'- those who are able to step out of their apparent selves and into their hearts to contribute whatever time or talent they may offer.  Together, we will keep deepening our work until we effect significant change in the way that Grenada's most vulnerable children are treated.”

Karen's children, Bart Jr., Mackie, and Katia are here working with us.  We are a motley crue of 15 volunteers - an employment lawyer, an ex-cop, an interior decorator, a yoga instructor, a construction worker, a photographer, a filmmaker, a music teacher, and a chocolate girl.  Yes, we could have brought the kind of items that REACH has so plentifully donated in the past - books, toys, clothes, and food.  But the greatest gifts we gave the children were the kind that wouldn’t fall apart or break, and couldn’t ever be taken away from them: our time, our love, and our dedication to their well-being. And, of course, I brought chocolate.

C is a beautiful girl. Taken from her abusive aunt in 2007 by Child Protective Services, she was brought to one of the few government-funded emergency shelters. Tucked away in a place known not even to the locals, she is safe - well, safer - here. C’s mother left in 2004 for the United States and never came back. Her baby is four years old, and lives at a shelter an hour away...babies having babies. Now eighteen, C is “aging” out of the program and must soon leave the emergency shelter. "Where will you go?" I asked her. "Don't know. I don’t want to stay here anyway. I don’t know where I’m gonna go though.” She likes a boy named Derek who comes to visit her at the fence, which she climbs - barbed wire and all - without shoes. "What do you like to do, C?" "Reading. But I done reading all the books here already. I like love stories, but I read all they got here."

I tell this to Karen and we agree to buy some books for the home. But books can’t build a place for her to live, and they won’t feed her child. Books can't provide an alternative to returning to her aunt’s abuse. And books won't bring C’s mother home.  But books will give her a temporary escape - a journey of the imagination that can never be taken away from her.


Now, we’re in Victoria, a small town on Grenada’s northwest coast, watching children running, laughing, and drinking punch donated by the church. Every Tuesday, 40 children from nearby orphanages play soccer together and teach you, in an instant, the message Eckhart Tolle, Buddha, and so many others might take the work of a lifetime to impart: the joy of the Now. They are enjoying this tropical Tuesday afternoon moment in its fullness without worrying about what was or what’s to come. And for that instant I, too, am brought into the eternal moment through their bright-eyed, innocent playfulness and joy.

I wave at a little girl and she runs down to me from the bleachers.  She fastens herself to me and looks up with hungry eyes and a smile wide as the sea.  For a moment, she appears to be a normal, affectionate young person until I look down and see her threadbare clothes, stick-thin legs, bloated feet, and torn, floppy shoes that don’t match. I feel tears welling up as I try not to think what may happen to her when she returns “home”.  I want never to let her go since physical punishment is widespread by caregivers who treat the children as they, themselves, were treated.  
 

The boy’s orphanage in Victoria reeks of urine and I learn that many of the children are bed-wetting – a common symptom of trauma (but considered a sin for which they are reprimanded). REACH has donated sheets, but beds are bare, and most lack even a pillow. One of the older boys explains that the children hide their soiled sheets for fear of punishment, so caregivers gave up on replacing them. Now, they lay on plastic cots in the sweltering heat.

Lindsay, REACH’s Program Director, is an intensely passionate young woman with ambition, direction, clarity, and true dedication.  Talk to her for ten minutes and you have an in-depth understanding of REACH’s mission and approach, as well as the status of all its projects. Lindsay and I hit it off from the first day.  She lives and breathes her work and openly shared her triumphs, her frustrations, and her goals with such fervency that a good part of me wanted to move to Grenada then and there!

In this kind of humanitarian project, the Lindsay’s of the world are essential and have the formidable task of treading lightly, yet effectively; balancing getting the job done whilst establishing respect and credibility; empowering Grenadians to be proactive leaders in organizing programs - not followers; showing that REACH cares for the children in a non-possessive yet lovingly protective way; teaching caregivers that gentle and effective alternatives to corporal punishment do exist, and; helping children develop inner strength and peace through yoga.

I am honored that Karen and Lindsay want me to become involved beyond chocolate. I had sent out a newsletter to our entire database people announcing my trip to Grenada, and highlighting the REACH Grenada chocolate bar that sold 100 bars in minutes - Gnosis customers’ votes in their support of the project (15% of each bar's price is donated to REACH).  They have asked me to structure and implement a nutrition program for all the homes. Lindsay showed me the budget for a garden that REACH sponsored at one of the homes and I began getting excited about all the ways I could tie nutrition in with healing through a national program for the kids. Thinking of C, her baby, the young girl in Victoria, and so many more children... I accept.  And while the details of how Gnosis’s work in Grenada will coordinate with REACH’s efforts are still to be worked out, but I feel I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime - via REACH and via Gnosis’s cacao projects - to make a difference in these children’s lives.  

Lindsay’s invitation coincided with my realizing that, even as REACH worked with the children, caregivers, teachers, and others to repair damage already done, I wanted to learn if I could somehow help prevent the damage in the first place. I thought deeply about all this during my second week in Grenada, as I continued to work with Mott: making raw chocolate from the tree to the bar,  (including harvesting the beans!), learning more about organic farming, investigating the operation of - and challenges to - farmers’ cooperatives, understanding the solar energy production that fueled the farm’s operations, and much, much more.

At the same time, I also did some online research about the causes of child abuse. According to the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence, child abuse affects all segments of society and knows no socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, or religious boundaries.  The Council’s list of factors that often contribute to child abuse include: alcohol and substance abuse, lack of parenting skills, economic difficulties or poverty, domestic violence, and previous victimization. Since economic difficulties also cause domestic violence, it became clear to me that strengthening Grenadians’ economic well-being could, over time, reduce the kind of child abuse that created so much of the misery I had witnessed.  

Then it hit me: chocolate is a natural vehicle for increasing economic and family health through organic agriculture!!!  Then and there, I resolved to work with Mott and REACH to help as many Grenadians as I could. In the last few days of my visit, I spoke with many people and organizations, including the former head of the electric company and members of the Grenada Cocoa Association, as well as gardeners and unemployed individuals - young and old.  Their enthusiasm for what was brewing in my head has led to exciting plans, some of which we are already implementing!

I so much look forward to sharing those plans - and how you can help - in my next Grenada Report; look for it coming soon...  In the meantime, do buy our REACH Grenada OrigiNib Bar; we will use 15% of your purchase price to implement these programs in Grenada to help C, her baby, the sweetie-pie on the soccer field in Victoria I wanted to hold forever, and so many others.

Warmly,
Vanessa.

P.S.   As I write this, tears of joy stream down my cheeks.  I am swept up in a flow of profound peace that swirls around me, the island, and the children.  Mixed with my joyful tears are feelings of wonder and gratitude that following my intuition, doing what I love, and being of service... may also bring health and happiness to others.  I feel so strongly that I’ve been guided to this island - I send the biggest chocolate-covered thanks to the Universe!!!

 


REACH Grenada OrigiNib Bar

Net Wt. 1oz. (28g) $6.00

Raw Organic Ingredients: Cacao Beans (Grenada)*, Cacao Nibs (Grenada)*, Palm Nectar*, Agave Nectar*, Nutmeg*, Blue-Green Algae*, Vanilla Bean*, Love. *organic 15% DONATED TO REACH

GRENADA!

 

Sunday
Aug142011

Going back to Grenada : June 2011!

When I was working with cacao in December 2009, I personally saw the children affected by a 40% unemployment rate, by the lack of agricultural initiatives (besides the Grenada Chocolate Company's organic cacao farm cooperatives), and by the degradation of infrastructure after after the 2004 hurricane. I met a child who, abandoned by his parents, was used as a sex slave. I was moved to donate out of pocket to a friend who was helping at a nearby orphanage. Shortly after my return, my friend Clay Gordon introduced me to Neo Moreton of REACH Grenada. Since then, my heart has yearned to reach out and help them on their mission!

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to reach out and help   this center. I am currently here (June 25th to July 7th) working in the Emergency Shelters and churches that have been converted to orphanages and group homes. But beyond the work I'll do while physically in Grenada, I am excited about the work I'll continue upon my return. I believe the best way to help a country in need is through organic agriculture. I am in support of outsourcing work - but only if that work honors the culture of the people we are working with! Outsourcing technology does not support heritage, while organic agriculture is a powerful way to promote independence, economic health, and pride for their soil, their labor, the product of their soil.

Won't you help me REACH Grenada!?

Sunday
Aug142011

First visit to Grenada : December 2009

One of my dearest inspirational friends, Mott Green, started The Grenada Chocolate Company and it is surely one of the most unique companies in the world. I am completely in love with the vibes of Grenada and the simple artisanry in the production of these bars. Grenada Chocolate is harvested, fermented, dried, ground, poured, and packaged here in Grenada - a "Farm to Bar" process that allows for Mott's values to permeate each and every single aspect of the product.

That's no joke - because Mott's values include a kind of integrity and respect for the land and people like none other... completely unpretentious and almost ridiculously idealistic. But you know what, it works. And it gives us reason tho wonder why we think idealism is unrealistic. The beans are some of the best I've ever had in flavor, the farms are 100% certified organic, all processing is done within minutes of where the beans are harvested, the "cottage factory" is solar-powered, the chocolate makers all live within minutes and make a product they are beautifully proud of, and the company is owned by the co-operative of farmers who nurture the theobroma cacao trees and the soil that mothers them and directly reap the true benefits of their hard work to maintain quality and organic certification.

In December '09, I visited my friend Mott Green in Grenada as part of my Raw Integrity Project. The purpose of my visit was to experience first hand the entire process of bringing you chocolate - starting at the farm. I worked side-by-side with the farmhands as we picked cacao pods from the trees, removed the fresh beans from the pods, carted them up and down hills, and dried and fermented the beans. It's at that point that the beans are ready to be processed into bars.

Since Mott's GCC is a model of transparency and integrity, I also had the opportunity to learn about the struggles and triumphs of organic farming; operating a company as a cooperative of farmers that ensures social responsible treatment; and running a chocolate factory on solar energy. We repeated the same process of low heat dehydrating with Mott's beans and machines and I personally measured the temperature of the beans the whole time they were in the roaster to ensure that raw temperature standards were maintained.

Grenada Chocolate Company Ltd. was founded in 1999 with the idea of creating an Organic Cocoa Farmers' and Chocolate-Makers' Cooperative. We produce high quality Organic dark chocolate in Grenada with our world famous cocoa beans. Our factory is nestled in lush cocoa groves in Grenada's pristine rainforest.

Our award-winning organic dark chocolate has the wonderful complex flavor of Grenada's fine-flavored organic cocoa beans, processed carefully in small batches. Producing chocolate right where the cocoa grows allows us to do our own fermenting which gives us a real advantage in creating the finest, most complex taste from the beans.  We use our own extracted cocoa butter in our chocolate also from Grenada's fine-flavored cocoa. This brings in a luxurious extra richness and chocolaty flavor.  Our chocolate has a truly deep and rich flavor.

We now have over 150 acres of organic cocoa farms in our cooperative and operate our own cocoa fermentry, located one mile from our little factory. This assures that we perform every activity involved in the production of our chocolate, from the planting and growing of the cocoa trees to the fermenting of the fresh cocoa beans to the processing of our fine dark chocolate. We grow our cocoa totally naturally without the use of any chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers and have been Certified Organic.

Our sugar is a fine organic raw sugar produced and milled by an organic growers' cooperative in Paraguy.

Whole organic vanilla beans grown biodynamically in Costa Rica provide our "dash" of vanilla.

Organic soy lecithin is used as emulsifier in extremely small amounts.

We are one of the only small-scale chocolate-makers producing fine chocolate where the cocoa grows.   Because small batch chocolate-making is very rare, we had to create our own processing methods, desigining our own machines and refurbishing antique equipment to meet the requirements of our unique situation. Most of our machines are based in design on those of the early 1900's, a time when quality had precedence over quantity in chocolate-making. Because we care about our environment, we use solar-electric energy to power our machines.

The original impetus and principle of our cooperative company is to revolutionize the cocoa-chocolate system that typically keeps cocoa production separate from chocolate-making and therefore takes advantage of cocoa farmers.We believe that the cocoa farmers should benefit as much as the chocolate-makers. 

 

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