Elizabeth’s coffee shop

In a dusty town, hundreds of miles from a paved road or any mod cons like running water or electricity, I met Elizabeth. I had come to the middle of nowhere to understand how people could survive in such a harsh environment. I had marvelled at the ubiquity of beer and pasta in the market, alongside the products I had expected: oil and salt, onions and some forlorn tomatoes.

I had not expected to find a coffee shop, a few plastic chairs on the uneven ground under a UNHCR tarpaulin. Elizabeth was hunched over the makeshift cow dung stove, brewing coffee. It tasted better than it smelled.

Elizabeth had six surviving children. She had fled the rampaging army that had killed her husband. She and her children had been removed from their makeshift home in a camp for internally displaced people when government forces wanted to build a new oil pipeline. She knew that by law her husband’s land would have passed back to his family on his death and she did not have enough money to reach her relatives. She and her daughters faced no opportunity to generate income other than to sell their bodies to the same forces that had killed her husband and displaced her.

But she wanted her children to go to school. She did not know why, but she knew it. And at the school gates she met a group of women facing similar circumstances who had formed a small co-operative. She took a small loan from them, and bought some plastic chairs, a pot and some small glasses. Her coffee shop was born. Grinning, Elizabeth told me she now had five coffee shops, and was planning to start a restaurant. She had paid back the loan within five months. All of her children were going to school. She had dug a household latrine. Her children were less sick.

At Cord we hear about and meet people like Elizabeth all over the world. They remind us about the urgency of overcoming the political, legal, structural and social barriers which leave so many people in Elizabeth’s position. They remind us what amazing impact small acts of generosity and initiative can have. They remind us how in all our talk of gender equality and gender blindness, it is so often the women who bear the brunt of war, the burden of indignity and inequity, the responsibility of providing for their families. And who maintain that extraordinary twinkle-eyed glimmer of hope.

Mark Simmons, Chief Executive

7th March 2017

Please help us to support vulnerable communities in their non-violent actions as they create opportunities, resolve conflicts, and advocate for their basic human rights, leading to a sustainable peace. Please support our 2017 Lent appeal.