Feds Block Citizenship of Suit Plaintiff


A blind computer expert who passed his citizenship test in ’04 recently won a suit forcing his background check’s completion.

The government began a last-ditch effort to deny citizenship for a
blind Palestinian computer whiz in Colorado who recently won a
lawsuit forcing the FBI to complete his long-stalled security
background check.

Homeland Security officials now have blocked Zuhair Mahd’s
three-year citizenship quest because he wouldn’t submit to
additional interviews after the FBI check was done, said Robert
Mather, Denver district director of U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services.

“We weren’t able to move forward with an approval process because
we didn’t have all the information we requested,” Mather said in
an interview.

This denial escalates a standoff that already had spun out of the
immigration system into federal court – where judges nationwide
increasingly face cases of citizenship applicants who passed tests
but still aren’t approved.

U.S. District Judge Walker Miller in Denver last week ordered the
government to prove why Mahd “should not be immediately
naturalized.” A hearing is set for Aug. 31.

Federal judges rarely grant citizenship. But U.S. law says
immigrants who pass citizenship tests must have their cases handled
in 120 days. Otherwise, applicants can go to court and ask judges
to decide.

Mahd, 33, who has been in the U.S. legally for 17 years, passed his
citizenship test in December 2004.

Born blind to Palestinian immigrants in Jordan, he came to the
country as a teenager with the help of U.S. officials. Today he
works for the University of Colorado helping a blind engineering
graduate student adapt.

He worked previously for IBM and on government contracts.

He said that he’s been forthcoming with immigration officials who
this year, long after their 120-day deadline, demanded that he
provide additional documents and submit to a videotaped interview.
At first, he refused but then in June complied and presented four
years’ worth of tax records, travel documents, employment data back
to 1998, and more. But he still refused to be interviewed,
according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and his
application was denied.

“They’re not entitled to the interview or the documents. The
documents were provided as a goodwill gesture,” Mahd said.

“They were going to deny (the application), no matter what I did
or didn’t do. All they are doing is buying time and splitting
hairs, and I don’t think that’s good for any of us.”

Miller on March 22 ordered the FBI to complete Mahd’s stalled
background check after Mahd filed a federal lawsuit on his own –
his first legal case.

This case set a regional precedent as the FBI grapples with a
growing backlog of 440,000 uncompleted background security checks,
which were instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to guard
against terrorism.

Prosecutors on Tuesday asked Miller to cancel this month’s hearing,
arguing that the government has obeyed his order.

Mahd’s application “has been denied,” U.S. attorney spokesman
Jeff Dorschner said. “He needs to now go through the process of
appealing that denial” with immigration officials.

Mahd said he would prefer to rely on Judge Miller in federal court.
Government officials “have broken a law, and they’re acting in a
vindictive manner,” Mahd said.

Demand for Local Food Grows

The rush is on for fresh food delivered by farmers directly to
Front Range neighborhoods – in line with a national trend toward
bypassing grocery chains.

Families switching to cooperatives as a healthy, fuel-saving
alternative today find farmers hard-pressed to keep up with demand.
Some 640 Front Range families receive boxes of vegetables, fruits,
honey and eggs from Monroe Organic Farms, a Greeley-area producer
that does weekly drop-offs in 25 urban neighborhoods. This volume –
more than double Monroe’s membership five years ago – has exhausted
the capacity of owners Jacquie and Jerry Monroe to produce.

“I could easily double my customers, but I couldn’t raise enough
food. I don’t have enough labor,” Jacquie Monroe said.

Among those who’ve tried to get farmfresh produce through a
cooperative but have not been able to find one with an opening is
Melissa Snow, 32, a mother and parttime teacher who is crazy about
the idea.

“I like the whole concept, that it doesn’t have to be shipped as
far – less of a carbon impact. I like supporting the small local
farmer,” Snow said.

More local farmers will have to get into the action, said Monroe,
who credits her cooperative with saving her 175-acre,
three-generation family farm.

Neighborhood drop-offs by a few Colorado growers has emerged as a
new dimension in the community-supported agriculture movement that
began in the late 1980s and, until recently, struggled to gain

Today, some 1,581 community-supported farms nationwide supply more
than 300,000 households, according to Local Harvest, a Santa Cruz,
Calif.-based group that tracks the trend. At least 25
community-supported farms in Colorado – such as Denver Urban
Gardens – grow food for members willing to drive to the farms to
pick it up.

Many of these operations, too, are overwhelmed, unable to grow
enough fruit and vegetables to satisfy growing demand.

Turning away would-be buyers “is really heartbreaking,” said
Heather DeLong, the Denver Urban Gardens farm manager. “They’ve
gotten to where they are taking initiative to be active in what
they are eating.”

Door-to-Door Organics, a food delivery service that buys as much as
possible from local growers, also is experiencing rapid growth,
with 650 metro-area customers, owner David Gersenson said.

Specialty grocers such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats sell good food,
“but this stuff is picked the day before it gets here. It’s
fresher,” said Patrick Winfield, 38, a software engineer whose
porch in central Denver serves as a drop-off/pick-up point for 40

He and his wife, Stefanie, who developed a taste for mangoes during
a Peace Corps stint in Malawi, wanted chemical-free food for their
children. They reckon the $300 or so that they pay for five months
of all they can eat is well worth it.

“And it’s like you’re tied into nature,” Winfield said. “You
care about what happens on farms.”

Small farmers struggle across much of the country in the face of
global competition. The share of U.S. food imported from abroad is
increasing, from about 7.8 percent of total food consumption in
1980 to at least 14 percent today, according to government

“Obviously, we’re all time-stressed,” and having fresh food
delivered “is a convenience issue,” said Carol O’Dwyer, a Park
Hill resident who is part of a cooperative that requires members to
take turns driving to the Cresset Farm east of Loveland.

“But mostly this is for the environment.”

Buying local also makes sense for health reasons, said Suzanne
Wuerthele, 60, a federal government toxicologist who picks up a
weekly box of vegetables a few blocks from her home.

Grocery store fruits in the off-season are tempting, “but I’m
concerned about where they come from. They may ship them 8,000
miles,” Wuerthele said.

The growing demand for fresh local food “is going to allow more
farmers to use more of their land to grow organic vegetables,”
said Marla Kiley, a mother of three who has had food delivered to
her central Denver house for five years.

Farmers “won’t have to sell to the bigger companies,” she said,
“because they have a ready local market.”

New Paperwork Sought in Fight for Citizenship

A standoff between a blind Palestinian computer whiz seeking
citizenship and the government intensified Thursday when Homeland
Security officials asked him to submit additional tax, employment,
passport and other documents before the FBI completes a background

Zuhair Mahd refused, calling it unjustified legal fishing.

A federal judge last week ruled that the government has violated
federal rules in handling Mahd’s case and ordered FBI and
immigration officials to complete the process.

“There’s been no transparency in this process, and that’s what
scares me,” Mahd said after meeting with an immigration agent.

“I want to be forthcoming. I have nothing to hide. But I get
suspicious,” said Mahd, who has lived in the country legally for
17 years.

Federal officials said they have the right to investigate further.

Mahd’s case “certainly has been complicated” by his refusal to
submit more information, said Chris Bentley, spokesman for U.S.
Citizenship & Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security.

The order from U.S. District Judge Walker Miller gives the FBI 45
days to complete a background check and then 45 days for
immigration officials to make a decision.

Court records show Mahd passed an interview and written tests
required for citizenship in 2004. FBI agents later interviewed him

Federal law says immigrants who pass citizenship tests must be
granted citizenship in 120 days.

When Mahd’s quest for citizenship never moved forward, he finally
sued the government and won the order from Miller.

U.S. Attorney Troy Eid is weighing whether to appeal Miller’s

Closer to the Oath

Ruling may speed up FBI security checks for local Palestinian and other aspiring citizens.

A blind Palestinian computer whiz in Denver fought the FBI and
Department of Homeland Security without a lawyer – and won. Now his
case may help force the FBI to expedite background checks on
aspiring citizens.

U.S. District Judge Walker Miller has ordered the FBI to complete a
stalled background check within 45 days for Zuhair Mahd, 33, who
passed all U.S. citizenship tests in 2004 but still couldn’t get
sworn in.

Miller ruled that federal officials violated their own rules in
handling Mahd’s case. The order last week in Mahd’s self-filed
lawsuit set a regional precedent for dozens of similar lawsuits by
mostly Muslim citizenship applicants pending in federal court. It
adds to pressure from federal judges around the country who are
demanding that the FBI complete the security checks – instituted
after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to guard against terrorism – in a
timely manner. Court records show the FBI faces a growing backlog
of 440,000 uncompleted checks.

“I would hope I’ve inspired people to take their cases forward,
speak out, and realize they can trust the legal system and feel
vindicated,” Mahd said Wednesday at an apartment where he’s
staying in Aurora.

Immigrants often “don’t even know they can seek judicial relief”
when their applications are stalled, he said. Part of his
motivation was “wanting to be sure I’m not living an illusion in a
country that claims to be democratic but really isn’t.”

This was Mahd’s first legal case. Born totally blind to Palestinian
refugees in Jordan, Mahd endured poverty and rejection as a
teenager before finding a banker who, with the help of U.S.
officials, bought him a ticket to Boston. Mahd graduated from U.S.
schools, then pioneered Arabic text-to-speech software working for
IBM and as an independent contractor interested in government

FBI officials “respect the court’s ruling,” spokesman Paul
Bresson said from Washington. “We will continue to evaluate ways
to improve our ability to process these name checks in a more
expeditious manner.”

Delays are caused by “the sheer volume of names submitted” by
multiple government agencies – about 3 million a year, Bresson
said. “Every name is processed thoroughly. We have never
sacrificed security in any way.”

FBI could appeal ruling

Today, Madh plans to ride the bus to a hearing with immigration
officials that was scheduled before he won his lawsuit. Mary
Mischke, acting Denver district director for U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security, had asked him to
present more “evidence,” including tax records, travel documents
and a driver’s license.

Mahd said he’s hoping the judge’s order will mean his citizenship
now will be approved.

But immigration officials “can’t do anything until we get a clear
record from the FBI,” immigration spokeswoman Maria Elena
Garcia-Upson said. “We owe that to the American public.”

Immigration officials “are reviewing” Judge Miller’s order,
Garcia-Upson said, declining to comment further.

U.S. Attorney Troy Eid in Colorado, whose office defended the FBI
and Homeland Security against Mahd, is weighing whether to appeal,
his spokesman Jeff Dorschner said.

Federal law says immigrants who pass citizenship tests must be
granted citizenship in 120 days. That’s the law Mahd cited in the
legal case he prepared on his home computer.

Court records show immigration officials twice asked the FBI to
complete Mahd’s case.

The system clearly is broken, and federal court orders like the one
in Denver should force “an improvement in security,” said Crystal
Williams, deputy director of the American Immigration Lawyers

“If there is something wrong with this guy, the judge has ordered
(FBI and immigration officials) to find out once and for all what
it is. If there isn’t anything wrong, then the FBI must clear him.

“Federal officials have let this build up, and it’s only going to
build up more if they don’t address it. The FBI needs more
resources to do these checks. And they need to focus them more.”

Quest to be Citizen Slows


Muslim immigrants often wait years for a background check to become Americans. But officials say they’re not being singled out.

Zuhair Mahd of Denver made all the right moves to become a U.S.
citizen after escaping poverty and rejection as a blind
Palestinian-refugee teenager in Jordan.

He found a banker to buy him a ticket to Boston. He excelled in
U.S. schools. He pioneered Arabic text-to-speech software and
worked for IBM, honing skills that recruiters for the CIA and other
agencies covet for the war on terrorism.

Then he applied for citizenship, passed the tests and waited for an
FBI background check.

And waited. And waited.

After waiting for two years, Mahd, 33, sued the FBI.

Now his case is pending in federal court along with hundreds of
other lawsuits nationwide by Muslims who made the grade to become
citizens but have been delayed while waiting for FBI checks for up
to five years.

Applicants for U.S. citizenship come from many nations and
cultures, but most of the lawsuits filed recently in Colorado
involve Muslim immigrants.

Federal law says immigrants who pass citizenship tests must be
granted citizenship in 120 days.

The lawsuits are getting results. An internal government memo
indicates suing can accelerate FBI action.

Yet the core problem is getting worse: a mounting FBI backlog of
unfinished background checks as the nation seeks greater protection
against terrorism. Today’s backlog tops 440,000.

FBI officials won’t say how many of those waiting for background
checks are Muslims but insist that the agency is not targeting any
particular group.

“There is a backlog,” Special Agent Jeff Lanza said at FBI
headquarters in Washington. “We’re not using ‘backlog’ as a
euphemism for discriminating against Muslims.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the government began
requiring FBI background checks on all immigrants poised to become
citizens, increasing the FBI’s workload to about

4 million checks a year. The checks are seen as essential to weed
out terrorists.

Now these very delays are raising security concerns. People whose
names trigger computer “hits” against federal databases remain in
the country for years.

“If there are concerns about these people, why are we just letting
them sit here?” said Crystal Williams, deputy director of the
American Immigration Lawyers Association, a pro-immigration group
in Washington.

“This system isn’t working … and nobody’s taking responsibility,”
Williams said.

The delays also foster ill will – just as the U.S. government
launches a new campaign to persuade more eligible immigrants to
apply for citizenship. Record numbers choose not to apply.

“This is injurious in so many ways. You’re sitting here, singled
out, hanging, with no indication why it’s taking so long,”
Jordanian immigrant Mahd said last week during a defense industry
job fair in Colorado Springs.

There, a recruiter who initially was eager to hire him balked when
he learned Mahd still lacked the citizenship required for security

FBI agents twice visited him at home in Denver, he said, asking if
he’d be willing to work as an informant or monitor online chat
rooms for anything suspicious.

“I told them I’m not willing to fill in the blanks when I don’t
know the full story,” he said.

“Why the delay? What did I do?”

Hundreds of lawsuits against the FBI and Department of Homeland
Security are pending in federal courts nationwide, including
class-action cases in California, Illinois and New York, according
to judicial records and attorneys.

The lawsuits ask judges to order completion of background checks –
or waive the checks – so that citizenship is granted within 120
days as required.

In Colorado, 31 of the lawsuits have been filed this year. At least
10 cases recently were settled, with the FBI agreeing to expedite
checks, presumably encouraging more lawsuits. At least 21 cases by
26 plaintiffs are pending, and federal attorneys report a couple of
new lawsuits filed every week.

Colorado Muslim leaders warn that citizenship delays feed a
deepening discontent.

“If you want people to be good citizens, you have to make them
feel welcome, not discriminated against,” said Colorado Muslim
Society Imam Ammar Amonette at Denver’s Abu Bakr mosque.

Some of those delayed for citizenship have served the U.S. military
as translators in Iraq.

Training Iraq-bound U.S. soldiers at Fort Carson, Iraqi refugee
Sattar Khdir, 52, a father of two who needs citizenship to join the
soldiers in battle, said he feels “ashamed. I’m sitting, eating
with the TV, seeing U.S. troops getting killed helping my

Khdir begged FBI and immigration officials repeatedly for a year to
finish his case – “Why don’t you let me go?” – before hiring an
attorney this fall.

“This is extremely unfair,” said Denver lawyer Jihad Muhaisen,
whose firm has filed more than 15 lawsuits. Government lawyers
swiftly arranged expedited checks in each case settled so far,
Muhaisen said.

Meanwhile, citizenship applications for non-Arab clients “go
through” without delay, he said. “If (Muslims) qualified for
citizenship, they should get citizenship.”

A Department of Homeland Security memo reveals that the FBI now
considers a “lawsuit pending in Federal Court” as grounds for
speeding up stalled background checks.

FBI agents say they’re working as fast as they can. Lawsuits won’t
intimidate anyone into doing sloppy work, said FBI Special Agent in
Charge Richard Powers in Denver. “We’re going to do it right,
because in some cases to make an error could be grievous. …
Certainly, security is an issue,” Powers said.

Suing the government “is an unfortunate way to try to resolve what
is a system that generally works at a very high capacity,” he

Frustrations in Denver reached the point last week that Muslim
community leaders, with Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman acting as
a bridge, visited FBI offices. Powers met with the delegation,
explaining how checks are done.

Computers at FBI headquarters cross-check names against multiple
databases. Some 62,000 names a week are sent electronically for
background checks. Nearly half are immigrants who have qualified
for citizenship; 85 percent of the checks are completed within
three days.

The problem: Names that trigger computer hits require agents to
ferret out data that may span the globe.

Demand to do more checks is growing. In 2001, the FBI faced
requests to conduct 2.8 million name checks. Last year, the
requests topped 3.3 million.

Federal officials say the backlog is growing as well.

Homeland Security officials recently began refusing to schedule
citizenship interviews and tests for anyone until FBI checks are
complete – an effort to reduce the government’s legal exposure.

Meanwhile, the government is struggling to reverse what Congress
and others have identified as a worrying trend: More than 7 million
immigrants eligible for citizenship haven’t applied.

The government just launched a $6.5 million “Americanization”
campaign to encourage more eligible immigrants to become citizens,
said Alfonso Aguilar, Homeland Security’s chief of citizenship.

“Until now, we’ve kind of taken assimilation for granted. The
truth is, we’ve come to the point that Congress and the
administration realize we need to strengthen our assimilation
efforts. If we don’t, we could have a problem” with lack of unity
in the future, Aguilar said.

“You cannot preserve a stable democracy if your people aren’t
united by common values.”

Meanwhile, government lawyers say they increasingly are diverted
from fighting crime to defending the FBI.

U.S. Attorney for Colorado Troy Eid estimated that for the amount
of time his staff has devoted this year to defending the FBI, it
could be “putting 50 or more bad guys behind bars.”

“This problem appears to be getting worse, not better. … One
obvious solution that could be considered would be to increase the
resources available to the FBI” for checks, he said. “These
background checks need to be done. How they get them done on time
is a public-policy issue that needs to be addressed.”

Pressuring the FBI

Civil-liberties advocates are demanding that the FBI set and meet
deadlines for background checks on immigrants poised to become U.S.

Otherwise, the post-9/11 system of having the FBI check names of
all applicants “means they can just keep people waiting for years
and years,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ranjana
Nataranjan said.

“The question is: Are there legitimate reasons to delay so many
people? We think the answer is no. Somebody isn’t connecting the
dots here. And, if there are real security issues, we don’t want
the FBI to sit on those.”

A growing FBI backlog of unfinished checks, and a new immigration
policy of refusing to schedule citizenship tests until FBI checks
are done, is causing havoc and feeding discontent. Hundreds of
mostly Muslim immigrants who have been delayed for up to five years
allege unfair treatment.

“When a group is singled out, that’s contrary to our principles,”
said Lema Bashir, legal adviser for the Arab-American
Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Delayed immigrants also seek help from members of Congress,
including Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.

“Prompt and thorough background checks are essential for our
nation’s security,” Salazar said Friday. “But we must also
guarantee no one is being denied for the wrong reasons.”

To become a U.S. citizen, you must:

Live as a legal resident in the country for five years (three if
married to a U.S. citizen) with no absence of more than one year
and at least 30 months of total presence, including three months in
one state or district.

Be at least 18 and of good moral character, meaning not a criminal
or habitual drunkard or person who has refused to support
dependents or lied under oath.

Pass English-language and civics tests and an interview with a
federal adjudicator.

Swear to support the Constitution and obey laws, renounce any
foreign allegiance, and bear arms or perform other government
services when required by law.

Give fingerprints for submission to the FBI.

Receive FBI clearance after a background check is completed.

Average wait time for all applicants: eight months after filing

Average number of immigrants who become citizens each year: 5,700
in Colorado; 604,000 nationwide.

Number of applications rejected a year: 108,000.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of
Homeland Security

Africa Lifelines: Peace Through Empowerment

Muramba, Rwanda – Thunderclouds rolled in from Congo across Rwanda’s red-and-green checkerboard hills, newly planted with corn.

At the Muramba girls high school, students in prim blue skirts
flocked from concrete classrooms to the cafeteria and bowed their heads
over books. Periodic tables. Algebra. English. Anything to get

Here in 1997, men with machetes slaughtered 17 schoolgirls who refused their command to separate into Hutu and Tutsi tribal groups – one episode in the violence killing millions around Africa.

Musing in a patch of sunlight outside the cafeteria, Sister Marie
Donata, ever protective, tried to remain optimistic.

A private Colorado-based group, Engineers Without Borders, is
trying through small-scale power and water projects to encourage
Donata’s girls and 25,000 surrounding villagers to avoid conflict
and violence by improving living conditions. The engineers are
installing solar panels, for example, like the one that provides
the electricity lighting the cafeteria.

Still, Donata winced. She looked at the hills where barefoot
families on overcrowded land compete for space to grow enough food
and eke out an existence, while militias in neighboring Congo keep

“If the poverty is not reduced,” said Donata, 47, who lost
relatives in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, “it will happen again.”

Everywhere, memories gnaw. Villagers veer between normalcy and

“I remember my mother was killed when she was holding me,”
Monique Kubwumukiza, 11, said quietly, fidgeting with her feet and
hugging her sides. That happened in 1998, when Monique was 4.
“They were chopping her eyes and teeth. She died a very painful

After the men killed her mother, Monique ran to an aunt. Then the
men killed the aunt.

Now, as a fourth-grader, Monique writes and draws neatly but seldom
speaks. She refuses to eat, other than nibbling at nuts and corn.

“I’m afraid people will come and kill us,” she said. “So now I
am always telling my brothers and sisters we should not sleep in
the house. We should go sleep in the forest.”

Frances Feeney of Denver was amazed when she visited Muramba in
2003 and saw that villagers had begun self-help projects, producing
soap and honey, weaving mats, hammering furniture. Back in Denver,
Feeney shared what she’d seen with Bernard Amadei, a civil engineer
at the University of Colorado in Boulder who in 2001 founded
Engineers Without Borders USA.

Amadei embraced the challenge of helping villagers whose world
seemed intolerably out of balance. “What is good and bad there? …
We need to empower them with healthy ways of expressing their

Donated medical supplies for Rwanda from another Colorado- based
group, Project Cure, helped win support from Rwanda’s government
for work at Muramba, located in rugged country near volcanoes.
President Paul Kagame visited Denver last year as part of a tour
commemorating Rwanda’s genocide. His government plans to fix the
road so that cars can reach Muramba.

“Small projects that are well thought out and appropriate for
communities can go a long way,” Amadei said. “This decentralized
assistance will solve problems. There’s no corruption involved. The
philosophy of Engineers Without Borders is to be small, under the
radar screen, a stealth approach to international development.”

At headquarters in Longmont, the engineers’ project manager, Meg
VanSciver, fields proposals from villagers all over Africa. The
group relies on private donations of about $500,000 a year.

E-mail and cellphones open new possibilities for villagers to
bypass governments and get help, said VanSciver, a former Peace
Corps worker.

In Muramba, Sister Donata’s colleague, the Rev. John Bosco, 38, a
missionary from Uganda, hustles from project to project.

At one stop, a woman knew the neighbor who slit her husband’s
throat in the genocide. She’d worked out peace with this man.

Now, she wanted to know what she should do at the government- run
“gacaca” – grassroots – public tribunals that began in the area
this year. The tribunals are meant to encourage reconciliation in
villages. She is required to attend and publicly accuse the man of
killing her husband. She worried that this could only bring trouble
to her and her children.

“What would you say to her?” Bosco said.

Then he hurried to a meeting with HIV-infected villagers jockeying
for dwindling sacks of emergency-relief corn meal, and to a
vocational school where a new solar panel from Colorado powers
computers in an administrative office. Farmer Winceslas
Muhawenimana, 40, a father of six who had formed a work crew, was
hoisting rocks and plunging a pick into a steep hillside to clear a
foundation for a new furniture workshop at the school.

An orphan, Pascal, 14, tugged at Bosco’s leg. Pascal lived alone in
a crumbling dirt-floor hut with his brother, Evarist, 7, who had
contracted HIV from their mother before she died in 2001. Their
father died in the war.

“I can’t go home; there’s no food,” Pascal said. Bosco promised
he would visit him later, and went to Pascal’s hut at dusk.

He found Pascal sitting alone in the darkness on a donated gray
blanket amid the fetid, muddy smell of feces. “A wildcat ate my
rabbits,” a distraught Pascal said.

Bosco had given him a pregnant female rabbit to raise in hopes the
boy might earn money for corn by selling rabbits. Villagers here
love rabbit meat.

When Pascal came home from school, he found the hut empty. He
searched banana groves nearby. In one, he found a feral cat chewing
the rabbit’s carcass.

Seemingly endless daily setbacks like this crush hopes. But village
elders say practical help from Americans inspires them.

“We have so many problems,” said Alphonse Nsangirana, 48, a
father of seven working with fellow farmers on a hillside to fire
red clay roof tiles in a homemade kiln.

He pointed at a newly dug ditch where visiting engineers told him
water pipes would be installed. Then, Nsangirana and families here
could drink safe water from a tap.

“If these projects are well done, and people get benefits of light
and water, there’s no doubt, there will be peace and joy,”
Nsangirana said.

“What’s missing is money,” Donata said. Sustained self-help
projects would mean “many who are frustrated could find a job and,
instead of fighting, resolve conflicts” over land.

That would help students study. And students “who pass exams can
help resolve conflicts all over our country,” she said.

Donata’s schoolgirls worked diligently to this end as she spoke.

The visiting Americans are friends who “help us to have a good
life,” said Pamela Iliza Turatsinze, 16. “We will be the future
ministers, presidents and engineers.”

Beside her, Angelique Tnyishime, 18, added: “If those engineers
keep helping us, we will make it to the university. We will graduate
into positions where we can begin to help these poor people.”


Here’s how to contact aid organizations whose work in Africa is reported on in the “Africa Lifelines” series:


Lundy Foundation
300 W. 11th Ave., Suite 15B
Denver, CO 80204
Web: www.lundy-africa.org
E-mail: v.dukay@att.net
Phone: 303-825-0888, ext. 3
Fax: 303-595-8925

Africa Bridge
P.O. Box 115
Marylhurst, OR 97036-0115
Web: www.africabridge.org
E-mail: africabridge@yahoo.com
Phone: 503-557-7245

Monday / Malawi

Water for People
6666 W. Quincy Ave.
Denver, CO 80235
Web: www.waterforpeople.org
E-mail: swerner@waterforpeople.org
Phone: 303-734-3490
Fax: 303-734-3499


Engineers Without Borders – USA
1880 Industrial Circle, Suite B-3
Longmont, CO 80501
Web: www.ewb-usa.org
E-mail: Projects@ewb-usa.org
Phone: 303-772-2723
Fax: 303-772-2699


Series reporter: Bruce Finley covers international affairs and
security for The Denver Post, which he joined in 1988. He has
reported from more than 30 nations, including his third tour in
Iraq with a U.S. combat unit earlier this year. This is Finley’s
fifth Africa assignment.

He grew up in Colorado, graduated from Stanford University in 1984
and earned master’s degrees in international relations as a
Fulbright scholar in Britain and in journalism at NorthwesternUniversity.

Finley can be reached at bfinley@denverpost.com.

Series photographer: Helen H. Richardson previously traveled to
Thailand and Indonesia to cover the South Asian tsunami and to Rome
for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, among other overseas
assignments for The Post, which she joined in 1993. Her freelance
work has appeared in The New York Times and Christian Science

Richardson grew up in Aspen and graduated from Parsons School of
Design in New York.

Richardson can be reached at hrichardson@denverpost.com

Series editor: Mark Harden

Photo editor: Larry C. Price

Copy editor: Eddie Chuculate

Maps and graphics: Severiano Galván

Multimedia producers: Doug Conarroe, Demetria Gallegos



Cellphones, e-mail and migrants are connecting rural Africa with
urban America, creating new possibilities for action to address
Africa’s pressing problems. Private groups in Colorado and
elsewhere are reaching the villages where two-thirds of Africans
live. “Africa Lifelines,” a three-day Denver Post series,
explores these efforts.

Some quoted material in these reports was translated from Swahili,
Tambuka, Kinyarwanda and local dialects.

Africa Lifelines: Water, Stuff of Life, Death

Africa Lifelines: A THREE-DAY SERIES

Engucwini, Malawi – Five times a day, Agnes Munthali hikes barefoot half a mile from a grass-roofed hut to fetch water for her thirsty children, balancing a sloshing 5-gallon bucket on her head. Corn barely sprouts from surrounding fields. Nearly half of Malawi’s 12 million people face starvation.

But water needs gnaw most urgently here and across rural Africa,
where 303 million villagers lack access to a safe source.
Waterborne disease kills thousands every day.

Munthali and others carry the buckets, weighing up to 45 pounds,
using bone, muscle and sheer will, while the gray Zombwe Mountains
loom in the distance.

On a recent clear morning, Munthali, a vivacious 35-year-old whose
smile reveals a missing front tooth, shrieked with laughter at an
outsider’s suggestion that the government will address water woes.

For villagers, government “doesn’t work,” Munthali said.
Villagers can’t even approach politicians, she said. If one did,
politicians “would turn him down.”

As it is, Munthali and her water- carrying neighbors consider
themselves lucky.

For the first time in years, the water they haul is clean – not
because Malawi’s government helped, but because Engucwini connected
with a private group of Americans half a world away.

The villagers teamed up with Water for People, a Denver-based group
that funds self-help projects. This year, the group arranged for
installation of a 150-foot-deep well within a mile of Munthali’s
mud-brick hut.

“I’m very happy about this,” she said.

More than 2,000 villagers a day flock to this well for clean water.
Previously, they had no choice but to drink contaminated water from
hand-dug pits.

Americans may assume the world’s poorest people suffer silently,
but more and more are able to ask for help using cellphones, e-mail
and other connections, circumventing corrupt or cumbersome
governments, said Solomon Nkiwane, a Zimbabwean political scientist
at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

Villagers increasingly form committees and pursue their interests
anywhere they can find help, Nkiwane said.

“This people-to-people thing is beginning. It may be a drop in the
bucket. But maybe this is the approach we should take,” he said.

Malawian life expectancy has fallen from 42 years in the 1970s to
39 in recent years because of AIDS and diseases caused by
contaminated water. And income is falling. Farmers in this area
earn about $8 a month.

The project began a few years ago when the local doctor, Steven
Chavinda, 65, called chiefs together and asked: “What are your
greatest needs?” All the chiefs said the same thing: clean water.
One chief, Mishek Ndzima, had lost his son to cholera, spread by
feces in water.

Chavinda told a U.S. Peace Corps worker posted nearby, who informed
a Malawian who worked as regional coordinator for Water for People.
That led to installation over the past 18 months of two wells at a
cost of $25,000. Denver-based supervisors lined up a local crew to
drill the holes and oversee maintenance training.

“The best solutions come from sitting down as close to the problem
as possible and talking with the people,” said Steve Werner,
executive director of Water for People, at his headquarters in

Villagers worldwide propose dozens of projects each month, often
learning of the group through the Internet. Werner and 20 staffers
in five countries review all proposals. Sponsored by the American
Waterworks Association trade group, they fund what they can on an
annual budget of around $2.8 million: about 80 projects, including
40 wells from Bolivia to Vietnam.

In Malawi, the first of the two wells helped revive the local
health clinic. The clinic, built in 1984, for years offered only
limited services because of a lack of water. Government officials
never supplied medicine as they do at other rural clinics. Radios
for emergency communications weren’t maintained. A 10-bed maternity
wing never opened.

This year, villagers notified health officials that the clinic has
water from a foreign-funded well with a solar-powered pump. And
health-ministry crews delivered mattresses for maternity beds, said
Manford Nyirenda, 49, chairman of the village water committee.

“We pushed them into action,” Nyirenda said, smiling, finger on
the pump power switch.

At the other well, Munthali gripped a hand pump and pushed up and
down as the noon sun beat down. Clear water gushed from the tap.

Women and girls took turns filling blue and orange buckets,
chattering. Between buckets, girls jockeyed to drink from the tap,
including Munthali’s pride and joy, Memory, 8, in a torn red

Last year, Memory got sick after drinking contaminated water from a
shallow well. “Very bad for her,” Munthali said. Purifying water
by boiling was impractical, given limited wood in the area.

Most of the 18,000 villagers around Engucwini still rely on water
drawn from hand-dug pits. Cloudy, stagnant pools in the pits
contain bacteria that cause cholera and diarrhea, known locally as
“open bowels.”

Malarial mosquitoes breed in mud around the pools. Women wash
clothes close by.

At the health clinic, the doctor Chavinda recently faced Ester
Chiumia, 32, cradling her dehydrated month-old son, Samuel. She had
walked since sunrise to reach Chavinda in his concrete building
without electricity. Now it was noon.

Gazing down at her baby, Chiumia said Samuel had bloody diarrhea
and no appetite.

Chavinda looked at her silently at first. At that moment, he lacked
the right medication. He saw Chiumia practically shaking with fear.
He gave her a folded piece of paper containing a couple tablets of
an adult antibiotic – the closest substitute he could find – with
instructions to cut each pill in half.

Chiumia nodded, still worried. She told the doctor the water she
hauls “looks dark. … We have no choice.”

At least 150 villagers die around Engucwini each year from easily
preventable sickness from contaminated water, Chavinda said. Deaths
decreased a bit recently in the area around Engucwini’s two new
wells, he said, “but we’ve got a lot more work to do.” He
reckoned Engucwini needs at least 20 wells.

Today, girls skip school to join the stoic parade of women hauling
water. And mothers are resigned that contaminated water will kill

“We do take chances here,” one woman said, watching her
granddaughter, Tiyese Chirwa, climb down a log into a muddy pit and
dip her bucket into a plate-sized milky pool of water.

Some villagers here struggle to find water at all. At an outlying
area called Chileda, there are no wells within 5 miles for an
estimated 5,000 people. For them, even marginal water is precious.

Barefoot boys in raggedy clothes were there, some with bellies
bloated from malnourishment, crouched around a drying water hole.
They had been digging it out a bit trying to coax more water from
the ground. A saucer-sized cloudy white pool of water only grew
more opaque.

Desperate, Chileda chiefs recently dispatched Frank Kumwenda, 29,
to go to the regional capital, Mzuzu, for help.

He set out by bicycle at 4 a.m., bouncing down a dirt road. He
pedaled furiously, crossed the sewage-contaminated Kasitu River
before anybody was up and reached the pavement of Malawi’s main
north-south road.

Then, moving along faster, he noticed some roadside villages had
wells. “I compared them to us,” Kumwenda said. “We are still

Kumwenda drank from one well, savoring the water on his journey.

He reached Mzuzu and its government offices by 9 a.m.

“I found the secretary,” Kumwenda said.

He announced that he had come to get help for his village.

“The secretary said, ‘The boss is not in the office,”‘ he said.

When he rode home that afternoon after a fruitless wait and told
what had happened, the chiefs were angry.

Kumwenda planned to try again soon.

Meanwhile, Munthali, sitting with relatives at their tidy farm
compound, said she wants to be part of a local maintenance team to
make sure the new wells work properly.

Men had assumed they would travel for maintenance training, but
Munthali said, “We’ll need a good mix.” After all, women haul
most of the water.

And while acknowledging the pressing needs of villagers at Chileda,
she also proposed drilling a new well closer to her home.

Today, even with a clean water source a half mile away, she and
Memory still must devote much of each day to trekking back and

In America, “people have a much easier life,” Munthali said.
“How can that happen here?”



Cellphones, e-mail and migrants are connecting rural Africa with
urban America, creating new possibilities for action to address
Africa’s pressing problems. Private groups in Colorado and
elsewhere are reaching the villages where two-thirds of Africans
live. “Africa Lifelines,” a three-day Denver Post series,
explores these efforts.

Africa Lifelines: FBI Cultivating Africans as Security Teammates

Denver agent training Kenyan officers in forensics The U.S. views Africa with interest as a frontier for terrorism, but any military acts can stoke resentment.

Nairobi, Kenya – Nine thousand miles from his home in Denver, FBI Special Agent Carle Schlaff faced 60 top African detectives packed into a room in Nairobi as part of a new U.S. focus on Africa.

Schlaff’s mission: to work with these African counterparts on
forensics and cultivate them as security partners.

The U.S. government views Africa with renewed interest as a
frontier for terrorism where al-Qaeda and other Islamic radicals
hide. Africa also supplies a growing share of the oil Americans
consume – nearly a fifth.

Terrorists in Africa could affect U.S. interests and organize
attacks inside the United States, said William Bellamy, U.S.
ambassador to Kenya.

“We try to monitor as best we can” airport travelers to prevent
terrorists from entering America, he said. “But I would not
exclude the possibility that could occur. … It’s certainly

Kenyan police recently found anti-tank missiles – some U.S.-made – in a terrorism suspect’s apartment at Mombasa, Kenya.

The U.S. priority in Africa of combating global terrorism has led
President Bush to deploy military forces at a growing network of
bases from Algeria to Uganda – in a pattern Bush set after the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

About 1,600 U.S. soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors are posted
in Djibouti at a base called Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign
Legion outpost. It is the first large long-term deployment of U.S.
forces to Africa.

Bush also sent special forces soldiers to Mali, Chad and Niger for
exercises with local forces against radical Muslims.

And U.S. officials have delivered more than $152 million in weapons
to sub-Saharan Africa since 2001, up from $92 million during the
previous four years.

But the military approach stokes resentment. African leaders say
they’re more interested in fighting worsening poverty than serving
U.S. interests.

African authorities believe young men were willing to join
anti-U.S. groups “because they had no jobs,” said Nicholas
Kamwende, commander of the Kenyan National Police anti-terrorism unit.

“We think fighting poverty is one of our ways of fighting
terrorism,” he said.

Kamwende said the United States traditionally has used skillful
diplomacy and developmental aid to help Africa address water,
health care and economic needs.

Tensions are mounting. Kenyan courts recently acquitted several
terrorism suspects indicted in the United States, and Kenyan
lawmakers have refused to pass an anti-terrorism law.

U.S. State Department officials say savvy cops such as Schlaff, who
also has worked in Botswana and the Red Sea area, can be more
effective than soldiers in helping locals root out terrorists.

In a spartan conference hall in Nairobi, Schlaff wore a sport shirt
and slacks instead of the camouflage fatigues that mark most U.S.

He smiled the way he might over coffee back home as the African
detectives in coats and ties stood quiet. He handed out FBI pins,
patches, fingerprint kits and cameras. He showed photos of his
family in the Colorado mountains.

He told of his forensics work on the FBI team that investigated the
bombing of the USS Cole warship that killed 17 sailors. Schlaff
helped dredge the harbor off Yemen and found part of an outboard
motor that cracked the case.

The attentiveness of Kenyan police officers impressed him, Schlaff

“Their focus is street crime. We’re not suggesting a different
focus. We’re just trying to make them aware there could be a
terrorism matter involved.”

Now, Schlaff is back in the United States. But detectives he
coached are working in Eastleigh, a Somali-run ghetto on the
outskirts of Nairobi, trying to recruit sources, offering money for

They’ve discovered funds flowing from Somalia to Eastleigh for
construction of shopping malls. They’re investigating who might be
sinking roots or raising money in Kenya.

These efforts bore out Schlaff’s conclusions. Street-

level police when treated with respect “are genuinely interested
in working with us” against terrorism, he said.

“If you want to convince people Americans are not the aggressor, I
think you’ve got to do it by being there low on the ground.”

Africa Lifelines: Orphaned by AIDS…Embraced by Strangers

Idweli, Tanzania – From the back of a lantern-lit schoolroom at a rural orphanage, Fodi Julius fixed his shining eyes on the blackboard. He was fighting exhaustion and trying to please his parents.

They died three years ago, leaving Fodi, 11, and his brother,
Nhambo, 8, among Africa’s 12.3 million children who’ve lost parents
to AIDS.

Their mom and dad’s final advice: Do well in school, because
survival depends on it.

Before moving to the orphanage, Fodi and Nhambo rose each morning
from their mats by a fire pit in their crumbling mud-brick hut.
They straightened their smudged school uniforms. Their small
fingers wove grass in place of lost buttons to fasten tattered

The boys set out barefoot and without breakfast down the dirt path
to school. At lunch break, while others ate, they waited. Finally,
when the teacher dismissed them for the day, Fodi and Nhambo
wandered through farm fields, foraging for food.

“We’d get leaves,” Fodi said. He weighs 48 pounds, half the
weight of others his age.

He mixed those green leaves with water and urged Nhambo to eat, no
matter how bad the leaves tasted or how sad he felt.

“I’d just tell him: ‘She died. There’s nothing we can do about
it.’ I’d tell him: ‘Even if you cry, she’s not coming back. So we
should stop crying and do what we have to do.”‘

But now, after three years on their own, Fodi and Nhambo have beds,
meals and basic instruction at an experimental children’s center
where they live with 56 other orphans on the outskirts of this
dusty, Swahili-speaking village.

Americans half a world away in Colorado and Oregon set up the
center – stepping in where governments and big charities had done

As the world grows more intertwined, African villagers mired in
disease, poverty and conflict – and those who want to help them –
are discovering new ways to connect, bypassing Africa’s
corruption-crippled governments and Western bureaucrats.

Television, radio and reports from migrant sons and daughters have
whetted village appetites for better living conditions. The recent
arrival of cellphones and e-mail in rural hubs encourages direct
links with Americans.

Help began with an e-mail

Here at Idweli, whose 1,300 people include more than 200 orphans,
the children’s center where Fodi now finds full plates of rice and
potatoes began with a simple e-mail.

Godfrey Mahenge, a student from Idweli studying medicine in
Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, five years ago vowed to do
something to help orphans back home. He’d told elders of his plans.
They’d dismissed him as a dreamer.

Mahenge drowned five years ago while swimming in the ocean. But his
girlfriend, Neema Mgana, kept sending e-mail queries to groups
outside Africa. One e-mail reached Barry Childs, 61, a corporate
executive turned philanthropist in Oregon who’d formed the group
Africa Bridge to try to help villagers.

Instead of dismissing the message as just another African e-mail
scam, Childs asked for details. He paid for Mgana to visit him.

Childs enlisted Vic Dukay, 49, a former aviation-business owner in
Denver with experience running AIDS projects, to work with him at
Idweli. Their first visits in 2002 focused on listening to children
and village elders.

“You want to be useful,” said Dukay, a heavyset, jovial man prone
to overworking himself. Orphaned at age 15, he was later moved to
tears as he sat with kids unsure where they’d find their next meal
and who habitually raised their hands before speaking.

“It took me back instantly to when I was 15,” he said. “That
look in the eye, body language, speech, that low, soft voice,
wanting to be in the back of the room away from everybody, not
wanting to be seen. You look in their eyes. Have you ever seen
anybody really sad? I can see sadness in somebody’s eyes. …
Probably from looking at myself.”

Dukay and Childs guided construction of the center, five ochre-hued
buildings with cement-and-stone foundations. Village men did the
work. There’s no electricity or running water.

This year, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded Dukay a grant to
assess whether the children’s center is meeting village needs. He
led an evaluation team, including psychologists and social workers,
on his 10th visit to Idweli this fall – feeling “more alive than
I’ve ever felt,” he said.

Staving off extremists

Sustaining this children’s center, and possibly replicating it
elsewhere, is more than a humanitarian effort, Dukay said. Security
analysts worry that Africa’s millions of desperate AIDS orphans
will join jobless urban masses adrift and vulnerable to extremists
who could lure them into violence.

“Where best to recruit?” Dukay said. “Out here in the
hinterlands where there is no security.”

He watched Fodi playing soccer in donated white sneakers, fighting
hard for the ball against bigger players, despite his physical
weakness after three years of eating very little. Nhambo, solitary
and silent, played a bit, too.

Any chore, Fodi volunteered. He hauled a 16-foot-long bamboo pole
for a mile to help cooks who were building a shelf.

Life’s better now than before, Fodi said, recalling how taunts from
children with parents tormented him.

“I’d leave, go sit someplace alone. Very bad to hear. I thought:
‘This will happen many times in my life. People will always be
telling me I am an orphan.”‘

Far more typical across Africa today are orphaned children who
raise other children with no help. Village elders are overwhelmed.
Nearby at the village of Ndulamo, three teenage girls – Shida
Mahenge, 16, and her sisters, Ona, 14, and Rehema, 12 – huddled
together at sunset. When they beg for food from neighbors, “people
cannot give,” Shida said.

For five years after AIDS killed their father and then their
mother, Shida served as surrogate parent and caretaker, insisting
that Ona and Rehema stay in school.

“I’m always telling them they need to behave and to listen to
their teacher and when they don’t understand, to ask questions,”
she said.

She deals with food. Working to earn money means enduring
harassment from boys and men unaccustomed to working with a girl.
First, Shida broke rock into gravel that villagers sell to road
crews for maintenance.

“Very hard work. You have to carry the rocks. It takes a long time
with the hammer to break the rocks into small stones. Now, I work
carrying timber. I think it might be better.”

But this night they had no food or wood to burn and stay warm. The
girls huddled silently in the cold, blue darkness. They were
hungry, barely able to think about their dreams of attending a
vocational school.

“We like to pray,” Shida said. “We have a very hard life now. We
pray to God to help us, so that we will not get sick. … We need
help to survive.”

HIV adds to struggles

Helping children such as this can be difficult because many are
infected with HIV, the virus causing AIDS. Doctors are scarce,
about one per 50,000 people in rural Tanzania, let alone anti-retroviral drugs for villagers.

At a German-run clinic nearby in Bolongwa, Dr. Rainer Brandl was
amazed to see a tiny, bloated girl, her feet swollen, staggering in
from a farm.

When he tested Veneranda Ganga, 13, he found she was HIV-positive with virtually no immunities. Doubting she’d survive,
Brandl put her on anti-retrovirals.

Veneranda gained strength. She began helping around the hospital,
cradling an abandoned 1-year-old girl. She told nurses she’d been
sick for years, after her father died of AIDS. Later, her mother
died, too, when Veneranda was 5. Before dying, she said, her mother
told her: “You must listen to other people. One day I will die,
and you must get along.”

Each day Veneranda retrieved water, washed dishes and took care of
her brother and an aunt’s two young children. This year, she grew
too weak to work. “I told my uncle, I better go to the

Frustrated and deluged with sick children, Brandl works on a
shoestring, unable to pay and keep staff. United Nations and U.S.
aid often funds workshops for doctors and social workers in cities,
drawing them away from urgent work in villages, he said.

“Nobody wants to work out here,” he said.

Orphans start to cope

At the Idweli children’s center, regular meals, chores and classes
let orphans begin coming to terms with their plight.

Vaileti Bonifasi, 14, who was 2 when her parents died, said she’d
been sneaking away to visit their graves, praying a bit, talking
and crying.

“I was walking back home from school thinking: ‘How can I not even
know what my mother looked like?”‘ Vaileti said. “I thought about
it all the way home. And I was lying on my bed. When I got up, the
ghost of my mother came to me. She was speaking to me. But I
couldn’t understand her.”

Godfrey Mahenge’s younger brother Elia, 21, told Vaileti she should
ask her brother Fred at the family house by the graves if he had a
photo of their mother. When they arrived, they found Fred standing
with his wife, Gloria, and their baby.

“There’s no picture” of their mother, Fred said. Instead, Fred
produced a wrinkled, laminated driver’s license showing their
father, who died in 1994. Vaileti clutched it but still wanted a
photo of her mother.

“I need to compare it with the face of the ghost,” she said.

Involving the villagers

The cost of the project at Idweli, including construction and
support for daily operations, has been about $300,000. Now Dukay’s
evaluation is focused on perceptions of villagers and the

“Are there any concerns?” Dukay asked recently in the meeting
hall, addressing village elders. “If there are any problems in
what we are doing, I would like to know directly.”

Some villagers benefit – such as Florence Doset, 39, a mother of
two who teaches at the center. She earns $50 a month.

“Because of these children, we have money,” she said. “So we’re

Others are bewildered. Orphans at the center suddenly enjoy better
living conditions and food than other children living with their
parents. Project supporters have begun to give small
“microcredit” loans to villagers.

Fodi is now studying as his parents advised, but the habit of
worrying about Nhambo is ingrained. He recently warned Elia that
Nhambo’s mind wanders in school.

But Fodi also was beginning to think about himself. In the
classroom where he sat recently in the early evening, he summoned
the last energy he had to hold his head up. Three lanterns cast a
golden light just bright enough to illuminate the blackboard. Elia
was teaching English, writing sentences – “You sing a song” – for
students to copy.

This was extra instruction to give the orphans a better chance at
school. Twenty boys, mostly older, were taking advantage.

And Fodi was especially resolute.

He wanted to be ready for competitive tests that determine who
qualifies for college.

“I want to be a teacher,” Fodi said. “Then I can help other



Series reporter: Bruce Finley covers international affairs and
security for The Denver Post, which he joined in 1988. He has
reported from more than 30 nations, including his third tour in
Iraq with a U.S. combat unit earlier this year. This is Finley’s
fifth Africa assignment.

He grew up in Colorado, graduated from Stanford University in 1984
and earned master’s degrees in international relations as a
Fulbright scholar in Britain and in journalism at NorthwesternUniversity.

Finley can be reached at bfinley@denverpost.com.

Series photographer: Helen H. Richardson previously traveled to
Thailand and Indonesia to cover the South Asian tsunami and to Rome
for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, among other overseas
assignments for The Post, which she joined in 1993. Her freelance
work has appeared in The New York Times and Christian Science

Richardson grew up in Aspen and graduated from Parsons School of
Design in New York.

Richardson can be reached at hrichardson@denverpost.com

Series editor: Mark Harden

Photo editor: Larry C. Price

Copy editor: Eddie Chuculate

Maps and graphics: Severiano Galván

Multimedia producers: Doug Conarroe, Demetria Gallegos



Cellphones, e-mail and migrants are connecting rural Africa with
urban America, creating new possibilities for action to address
Africa’s pressing problems. Private groups in Colorado and
elsewhere are reaching the villages where two-thirds of Africans
live. “Africa Lifelines,” a three-day Denver Post series,
explores these efforts.

Today: A Coloradan works in a Tanzanian village where the spread of
AIDS is leaving growing numbers of children parentless.

Also, a Denver FBI agent cultivates African police as partners
against terrorism.

Monday: Efforts by Colorado-based Water for People to drill wells in Malawi help
thousands who search daily for safe water.

Tuesday: Colorado engineers assist Rwandan schoolgirls quavering
from the horrors of war.

Some quoted material in these reports was translated from Swahili,
Tambuka, Kinyarwanda and local dialects.

Fair Trade Movement Brews New Hope for Coffee Growers

Millions of producers in Third World mired in poverty

UNILDE, Nicaragua – Standing in a cloud forest on the side of
a volcano, Santiago Rivera closes his calloused fingers over green
coffee fruits blushing ripe – future flavor for U.S. consumers.

He descends a twisting trail, past banana trees and the
donkey he fondly calls “the squirrel,” to his adobe house with an
earthen kitchen floor and no plumbing.

He gets by thanks to the “fair trade” deal that gives him 91
cents a pound – double what most growers here get. In fact, Rivera
is the model campesino pictured on brochures touting Starbucks
Coffee’s participation in fair trade, in which companies and
consumers team up to get more money to peasants.

But millions of other coffee producers, across Central
America and much of the Third World, are mired in some of the
planet’s worst poverty. A few hours from Rivera, women give birth
in fly-infested black-plastic shanties without medical help, and
barefoot children grow up on one meal a day.

The survival or suffering of people who produce your coffee
is one of many aspects of today’s world that U.S. consumers can
control. Today, poverty and despair are spreading, creating
breeding grounds for trouble in a world where the threshold for
violence rose Sept. 11.

Leading analysts, including former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado,
who recently led a sweeping appraisal of U.S. national security,
say we must confront global poverty – especially to combat

“There must be much more concerted international effort to do
what the Army calls drying up the swamp. The swamp is composed of
four things – money, weapons, shelter and the fourth thing –
recruits,” Hart said. “The only way you do the fourth is by ending
the despair and offering hope through concerted
economic-development programs.”

The emerging fair-trade movement tries to accomplish this
within the market system instead of relying on aid handouts or
moving farmers into low-wage factories. The way it works is U.S.
consumers pay 5 to 10 percent more for products with fair-trade
labels. Those additional cents, and savings from companies buying
the products more directly from producers and co-ops abroad, can
give producers in the field a minimum price. Inspectors verify
whether the money gets through.

This movement brought “fair trade” coffee to Starbucks a year
ago along with other coffee shops – Kaladi Brothers in Denver,
Coffee Jones in Boulder and Bongo Billy’s Coffees in Buena Vista,
among them. Now, movement leaders target giant corporations that
drive world prices – owners of Maxwell House, Folgers and the
like. More than 80 percent of the coffee Americans drink is this
relatively inexpensive canned coffee.

Fair-trade leaders also plan to broaden their strategy to
encompass producers of other commodities – bananas, sugar,
chocolate, clothing.

But consumer-led poverty reduction isn’t possible unless
corporations agree to offer fair-trade products. Many refuse. As
it stands now, few coffee growers benefit because less than 1
percent, or 2.19 million of the 219 million cups of coffee
Americans drink daily, is certified as fair trade.

Meanwhile, a global coffee crisis caused by overproduction
drives millions ever deeper into poverty.

“We eat only beans,” said Paula Mercado, 40, in a dark
hillside shack near Rivera. “We’re killing ourselves working, and
we can’t get a decent price.”

Highly traded commodity

Four in five U.S. adults drink coffee, helping to make coffee
the world’s second most-traded commodity after oil with $55
billion in annual sales. And industry experts say the very best
coffee generally comes from small-scale farmers like Santiago
Rivera laboring in tropical highlands from Ethiopia to Indonesia.

This fine coffee grows on shaded plots, under diverse
canopies considered ecologically healthy, where complex flavors
develop. Here in the mountains of northern Nicaragua, brilliant
blue butterflies bounce around Rivera’s carefully tended coffee

His classic method and wise, weathered face made him a
modern-day Juan Valdez for Starbucks, which distributes its
fair-trade brochures at 3,000 shops around North America. Soon
Starbucks will offer fair-trade coffee worldwide, chief executive
Orin Smith said. “We’re going to be a force within our industry
… working very hard to make this program work.”

It isn’t charity, he said. To keep selling top-quality
coffee, “we need these people to survive.”

For his role, Rivera gained a public-relations tour of
America last year. He saw “streets made of nothing but buildings –

Now back home he struggles, perched on a wood chair teetering
on an uneven floor, weighing his finances. His wife, Ermelinda,
brings him a cup of his own coffee – one of the few luxuries in
his life. His earnings as a coffee grower aren’t enough even to
afford Nescafe instant from the village store, let alone an $11.45
bag of his beans in America.

He collects 91 cents a pound because he’s part of a
cooperative – Prodecoop based in Esteli – that sells 60 percent of
its coffee at fair-trade prices – $1.26 a pound for fair-trade
beans and $1.41 for beans also certified as organic. Directors
said farmers usually receive about $1 a pound depending on
deductions for transport, processing and community projects.

Rivera’s 91 cents means his six children can attend school
and, at this time of drought, eat store-bought rice and corn. He
still relied on aid handouts after Hurricane Mitch to repair his
roof and an outhouse.

Yet his struggles are minimal compared with those of
neighbors around him who must sell their beans for 45 cents a
pound. They beg regularly to let them join his co-op. Rivera must
say no until demand grows – which torments him.

“You should be able to work and have a better life,” he said.

Sales are still low, but the volume of fair-trade coffee
imported by the United States has more than doubled since 1999,
said Paul Rice, director of the TransFair USA organization that
coordinates monitoring and labeling.

“U.S. consumers are a sleeping giant,” Rice said. “As it
awakens, corporate America has to sit up and listen.”

But fair traders face an uphill battle.

Across coffee-dependent Central America – where good times
mean living on $2 a day – relief agencies estimate 1.5 million
peasants lack food as a coffee crisis worsens. World market prices
plunged to all-time lows last week – 19 cents a pound for
low-quality robusta and 45 cents for arabica beans. In Nicaragua
alone, a quarter-million people are suffering, and United Nations
officials said more than 12,000 coffee workers now receive
emergency food aid.

What caused this crisis? Investors over the past decade
sensed profit opportunities in Vietnam, where peasants work as
cheaply as anywhere in the world. Financiers and Vietnam’s
government directed rapid development of coffee plantations.
Vietnam now is the second-largest coffee producer behind Brazil –
churning out cheap robusta coffee that corporate giants like
Procter & Gamble buy. A resulting glut of this coffee sucked down
world prices.

Vietnamese peasants win.

But in Nicaragua, Victor Manual Alvarez, 45, sat on the floor
of his two-room house measuring out the last of the corn that
feeds his family. His four barefoot children watched listlessly.

“When this runs out …” His voice trailed off. The family
has no money, he said. A dry cornfield behind the house isn’t
planted. He still counts on coffee, but unable to sell at
fair-trade prices he must settle for 50 cents a pound. After
tending to his coffee plants and harvesting, moving his coffee to
local middlemen requires five day-long donkey treks down the
volcano and then along a rocky 5-mile road to Somoto.

He devotes more time now to searching for construction work
that might bring some money for food. Sometimes he’s gone for

“It’s not fair,” he said. “Fifty cents a pound is not enough
to provide coffee.”

There was a time when he envisioned a better life for his
children. “I’ve been working with a machete since I was a little
boy. I never studied.”

Now he just wants them to survive. “Give a good price to us,
the poor producers of your coffee,” he implored. “The coffee we
produce is good coffee.”

United Nations World Food Program supervisor Rosario Sanabria
laments that too many commodity producers are falling behind.

“The companies play an important role,” Sanabria said. “Their
values are not human. They are commercial. What is their
responsibility? In general, we’re not taking care of human values.
The world would be a little more fair if we thought more about
human values.”

Inside a Starbucks cafe on Denver’s 16th Street Mall,
bank-loan specialist Beth Bockenstedt, 44, ordered up a $3.80
Caramel Macchiato last week. She knew about fair-trade coffee.
She’d seen the brochure featuring Santiago Rivera. The cafe in
Denver offered no fair-trade coffee as a daily brew. Bockenstedt
said she might be inclined to try it or buy fair-trade beans for
home instead of French Roast – even if those beans aren’t quite as

But she doubts fair-trade money really reaches peasants. She
views fair trade as “just a gimmick” to hook socially conscious

At Starbucks headquarters in Seattle, chief executive Smith
worried about the quality of fair-trade coffee. He said he wants
fair-trade leaders to work with industry leaders to find
cooperatives that can produce the best coffee in large volumes.

Specialty-coffee lobbyists fear this is happening too slowly
and that an industrywide roughening of quality will result as
Vietnamese robusta drives out savory arabicas.

Fair-trade pitch rejected

“We can’t do what we need to do with fair trade,” said Ted
Lingle, director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
“We can’t get consumers to connect with the issue fast enough to
make a real difference for the farmer.” Lingle wants coffee-market
leaders in New York and London to remove “triage” waste products
that inflate global coffee volume, in an emergency effort to
resuscitate prices.

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble directors at a shareholder
meeting Oct. 9 rejected a pitch to offer fair-trade coffee. P&G
prefers to help impoverished producers by giving aid, spokeswoman
Margaret Swallow said.

Executives are looking for groups that work with farmers to
help them switch from coffee into growing more profitable crops,
she added.

Pressure groups plan to attack P&G as suppliers of “sweatshop

And in the U.S. Congress, lawmakers are trying to make up
their own minds about what kind of coffee to drink. Last week
lawmakers tested fair-trade blends in a congressional cafeteria.

Yet so far nobody is making a real difference for coffee

In a fly-infested shanty camp near Matagalpa, Dimas Carrazo,
40, grips an ax, trolling for wood to cut and sell, the only way
he can afford food for his four starving kids. Frustrations mount.
Carrazo and others once fought as U.S.-backed contra fighters to
subvert Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Many still wear blue
contra caps emblazoned “Guardians of Democracy.”

Americans should help with the coffee crisis, said Marcos
Molina Velazquez, 40, an ex-fighter now raising five kids. “If
they helped us before to get arms, now they should help us get

In another roadside camp, Samuel Tinoco, 53, suggested:
“Maybe I should go to Vietnam?”

Leading a group of 350 landless coffee workers, who marched
all the way to Managua pleading for aid to sick children and then
camped at the National Assembly, Maria Victoria Picado, 45,
announced: “If nobody does anything, this will get violent.”

This year, a U.S. State Department report warned that “endemic
poverty” in Nicaragua is driving entire communities into smuggling
drugs from Colombia north to the United States.

Even Santiago Rivera questions the free-market system right
now. He has friends in the United States, and excused himself
tearfully after watching the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade
Center. “We’re all brothers.”

Yet in Nicaragua’s election next month, he’s backing
ex-Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, a man with questionable
connections to Libya and Iraq who once tried to lead Central
America toward socialism. He’s worth another try, in Rivera’s
view, as a leader responsive to real people.

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