(from the November 26, 2013 publication of the “Brooklyn Excelsior“)
Brooklyn—Brooklyn College grad student Alexander Nixon (Art History) has found a novel way to raise money for a Guatemalan school.
This 35-year old former Peace Corps volunteer hopes to raise five thousand dollars by January 1st to allow a high school in San Miguel Escobar, where he did his Peace Corps service, to start serving local kids, many of whom are the children of coffee growers. Nixon hopes to have reached his fundraising goal using Kickstarter to crowd source donations from friends, family, and classmates. As an incentive, Nixon says he will give a copy of his Guatemala-inspired fantasy novel to all the Kickstarter contributors who contribute ten dollars or more.
“My book is like the Alchemist meets The Little Prince,” Nixon states. “The story is based on a story told to me by a my good friend Sebastian “Ixmatá.” We worked together. He was obsessed with US pop culture and the End of the World. One day he took me to his hometown in the mountains to teach me how to ride a motorcycle. That was when he told me the story of the lost continent of Apassionéa, which became the subject of my fantasy novel. Ixmatá tragically died in a motorcycle crash mid-way through my service.”
In August 2008, Nixon was invited by a coffee cooperative of some 150+ families located in Huehuetenango (Way-way-ten-AN-go), in the Guatemalan Highlands. There, he worked as the coffee marketing expert for two years, or two coffee seasons.
About his Peace Corps modus operandi, Nixon says he acted as a “catalyst.”
For example, in winter 2008 he brought two cooperatives together to consider pooling resources in order to lower shipping costs and gain more access to niche markets in the USA, such as local NYC Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) and “farmer-to-farmer” organizations.
“One [coffee grower coop] had access to niche markets, but did not value the volume of gourmet organic coffee to meet demand,” Nixon says. “The other [coop] had high volume certified-organic gourmet coffee, but no niche markets. They were selling on the open market and underselling their product. Now they export together in one crate, sharing all the coffee machinery and transportation costs along the way.”
Nixon describes a two-year campaign to connect coffee growers directly to consumers by constantly networking. According to him, connecting organizations was a key component in what he says was a “highly fruitful” Peace Corps service.
For instance, he cites a continuing flourishing relationship between the rural Wisconsin-based “Farmer-to-Farmer” organization and his Guatemalan cooperatives:
“Since 2010 [Farmer-to-Farmer has] been buying coffee from a cooperative of Mam Maya families in the Huehuetenango area. In the past three years, all of the coffee is grown by a small group of women farmers within [the coop].”
Farmer-to-Farmer President Jody Slocum states, “Each year a portion of the profits go back to the farmer and also help fund the scholarships. We pay well above the fair trade price. You can quote me.”
In addition to seeking niche gourmet coffee markets, Nixon produced YouTube videos that told the story of the coffee farmers and their families. He also produced videos to help raise money following the devastation left by Hurricane Mitch.
Perhaps the most “fruitful” of Nixon’s Peace Corps projects, and literally so, was a successful grant he wrote to the State Department requesting funds for reforestation in the aftermath of a destructive hurricane.
“The [State Department] grant for reforesting the Volcan de Agua was a major victory for our cooperative. The grant we applied for required equal parts contribution by the group, which came in the form of human time and labor. The other part, the grant part, helped purchase building materials, seeds, and irrigation systems for tree nurseries.”
“We I left we had built the nurseries, started organizing capacity-building workshops, and planting macadamia, avocado, mahogany, and mango.”
Even though his two-year, three-month service is complete, Nixon says, “his commitment never ends.”
Case in point: this week Nixon launches his Kickstarter campaign.
According to him, “the school will be part high school, part-trade school. Kids will have a headquarters where they can launch a new generation of grass-roots-level local businesses.”
Nixon explains, “[San Miguel] does not have a local high school in the vicinity. It is too expensive to bus their kids or to send them to a local school. Kids like Claudia López and Maria Benita, to name only two of many inspirational examples, have thriving small businesses making creams, oils, and cosmetics from coffee byproducts, as well as from mango, macadamia, and avocado.”
“Thanks to the Internet, like Facebook, I am in constant communication with my former colleagues in Guatemala,“ Nixon says, “The school needs desks, books, chairs, and equipment. This fundraising effort should give the school that final push that it needs to open its doors.”
“Why contribute?” Nixon asks. “Because a little bit here goes a very long way there. It is like your money has eight times the impact.”
“Plus, a school exemplifies the idea of building local capacity, quite literally,” Nixon explains. “This is much more than teaching someone to fish. This is teaching how to make fishing poles, how to gut a fish, how to cook it, and how to raise a new lake full of minnows.”
In addition to his Guatemala-inspired fantasy novel, Nixon is giving Kickstarter contributors who contribute twenty dollars or more a copy of his newest album songs written during his Peace Corps service.
The Kickstarter campaign lasts through Jan. 1st, 2014. Find out more about his children’s story here.