Overseas mission for teacher

Photo courtesy Jennifer Hansen Jennifer and her dog Billie.
Photo courtesy Jennifer Hansen
Jennifer and her dog Billie.


Before she returns to her teaching job at Kearny High School next month, Jennifer Hansen will be tending to another sort of job overseas.

Hansen, a Kearny resident starting her 10th year at KHS as an instructor of freshman/ sophomore English, left Sunday for an unusual mission.

She’s part of a 12-member U.S. “delegation” visiting Las Diosas, an all-woman fair trade coffee farming collective Las Diosas in Nicaragua whose crops have been severely compromised by a coffee leaf fungus known as la roya.

This malady, which attacks the leaves of the coffee plant and prevents it from generating coffee beans, has spread through much of Central America, according to published reports.

The website La Roya Recovery Project, which tracks the situation, says that, “While common to low lying regions, the fungus has spread to higher attitudes – [like the mountains in northern Nicaragua where Las Diosas is located] – where coffee is grown.”

As a result, the website says, “Small-scale coffee farmers have lost up to 75% of their coffee crops to the fungus, deeply impacting coffee farming families that are already vulnerable to poverty, along with the fluctuating market of the coffee economy.”

On the Ground Global, an organization that supports sustainable community development in farming regions world-wide, is partnering with La FEM (Fundacion Entre Mujeres) – a group that helps women access land and crops – on “Project Nica,” a local nonprofit that advocates for rural Nicaraguan women on socio-economic and political levels.

Project Nica, which will be promoting crop diversification among the 200 or so members of Las Diosas, will be the point of entry for the U.S. delegation to the collective.

Hansen learned about the women farmers’ plight because she’s particular about how and where she gets her java.

“I buy coffee online from the Just Coffee cooperative which purchases from different small coffee growers all over the world,” she said. “They support fair trade practices and smaller scale farming communities.”

And now they are sponsoring the delegation to aid Las Diosas, Hansen said. Just Coffee solicited applicants for the delegation and Hansen was accepted and, despite having no expertise as an agronomist, Hansen said she’ll be contributing to the effort in other ways.

As she explains in a public posting, “I am raising $1,000 to benefit the women of Las Diosas. I am counting on the support of friends and family to help me reach this goal. … I believe strongly in empowering these women and their communities. La FEM is a really solid organization that believes ‘women in the communities are protagonists of their own futures and their development.’ ”

The delegation, along with agricultural advisers from Just Coffee and On the Ground Global, will visit six farms spread among the communities of Esteli, El Colorado and Los Llanos, Hansen said.

“We’ll be looking into strategies that will help the communities deal with the fungus and helping them to diversify their crops, possibly by growing fruit trees,” she said.

As a non-farmer, Hansen said that her personal goal is “to learn as much as possible and raise more awareness about their plight when I get back.”

Women in the collective have had to face a lot of personal obstacles, Hansen said. “Many are survivors of domestic violence or abuse. Some of their husbands left them or disappeared and, since they live in a very patriarchal society, without a husband, they have no way to support themselves,” she added, but for the intervention of La FEM which helped the women launch the coffee farms which, until now, have flourished.

“I’m really excited to get out there and meet those women,” she said.

Hansen has built a resume of social justice work: She has mentored at-risk teenage girls at the Women’s Expressive Theater in New York; volunteered for Bluestockings, a New York feminist bookstore; fund-raised for survivors of domestic violence through “sheBAM”; and helped KHS students form the Gay Straight Alliance.

“I saw my mother struggle to raise three kids after my father passed, and I saw that she had to work very hard because of her lack of schooling and skills. But I was able to make different choices – including going to college – than my mom, and it’s something I feel all young women should be able to do: make choices to empower themselves. A woman shouldn’t have to depend on a man or another person (father/husband/ boyfriend/partner) to live. It is really important to me that girls are able to make choices so that they can take care of themselves when they are adults,” she said.

People wishing to make a contribution to her fundraising campaign may visit this website to learn more: https:// www.razoo.com/story/ Jenna-Hansen-Fundraising- For-2015-Project-Nica-Delegation- 1?referral_code=share.

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