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PARC Interpeople's Cooperation (PARCIC), a Specified Non-Profit Corporation.Connecting Using "Delicious Food"," Constructing Bountiful Relationships for All!"

Representative Director Inoue (R) and Awajicho Marché Coordinator Nakamura (L) ."Delicious coffee creates peace-of-mind."

Representative Director Inoue (R) and
Awajicho Marché Coordinator Nakamura (L) .
"Delicious coffee creates peace-of-mind."

This month's Close Up introduces PARC Interpeople's Cooperation (PARCIC), a specified non-profit corporation. PARCIC was born in April of 2008. It was inaugurated by the spinning off of the "Interpeople's Cooperation" section of the Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC), itself a non-governmental organization (NGO) that goes beyond national borders in engaging in research and government-advocacy activities from a citizen's perspective. Rather than international cooperation between countries, through citizen-to-citizen and person-to-person assistance, PARCIC has raised the flag of "Interpeople's Cooperation," it offering support in countries such as East Timor and Sri Lanka, etc., using fair trade activities as a major vehicle for its efforts. On this occasion, we spoke to PARCIC Representative Director Reiko Inoue, and Yuki Nakamura, "Awajicho Marché" (Awajicho Market) Coordinator from the Fair Trade Department. The topic discussed was PARCIC activities and the desire that underpins them.

Q.Please tell us about the main activities of PARCIC.

A plantation in East Timor.©PARCIC

A plantation in East Timor.
©PARCIC

A.Ms. Inoue:We are engaged in two different types of activity, one involves interpeople's cooperation, the other fair trade. Let's talk about East Timor as an example. It is a country that obtained independence in 2002. As a newly-independent nation, however, the only commodity they could export at that time was coffee. In offering assistance in order that they were able to sell their coffee at even slightly better prices, we commenced activities in support of East Timorese coffee producers. To farmers who had previously simply picked their coffee and sold it as red beans, we provided equipment and we taught processing technologies. The result of this has been that they are now able to produce a higher quality coffee. Furthermore, we import the coffee they produce at a fair price. Through such delicious coffee, we want people in Japan to learn something of East Timor as a country, and the challenges that confront the East Timorese as they attempt to build their nation. At PARCIC, this is the sort of thing we do, we combine interpeople's cooperation that supports local producers with the principles of fair trade.

Q.So why did you initially get involved in supporting East Timor?

A.Ms. Inoue:I originally worked for the Pacific Asia Resource Center (PARC), being involved in research and the management of materials, etc. That job brought me into contact with a wide range of theses and materials concerning East Timor, written by people from many different countries. East Timor is a tragedy in that it was the last colony in Asia after the Cold War. My initial desire was to tell others about such facts, and this desire evolved into meeting a wide variety of people, and participating in an expanding range of activities. As with any country, the more you see of the "people," the stronger is the motivation to do something. In my case I have enjoyed a long-term friendship with Jose Ramos-Horta, the former president of East Timor and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Our friendship stretches back to before East Timor obtained its independence. Mr. Ramos-Horta came to Japan as the representative of an NGO. At that time, however, he had difficulty meeting with important Japanese people. As such, he spent a fair bit of time at our offices.

Q.And you are also active in Sri Lanka and Malaysia as well.

A.Ms. Inoue:In Sri Lanka, due to the protracted civil war and the tsunami of 2004, there are widows and others who experience difficulty in making a living. We have taught these people to make dried seafood products, and we engage in selling such products at fair prices in the markets of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, etc. This is fair trade within Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, in the south of the country, we also support organic tea cultivation. Cultivating tea without agrichemicals or chemical fertilizers is a very labor-intensive activity. However, it produces delicious tea with a well-rounded taste that consumers don't tire of. Being able to deliver delicious tea that offers peace-of-mind is also a major plus for consumers. Through such activities, we bring together the farmers and fishermen of such countries with people here in Japan. We continue to act while wanting to develop relationships that are rewarding for everybody. Furthermore, in Malaysia as well, we are supporting coastal fishing communities in their environmental protection activities.

Producers in Sri Lanka engaged in dried seafood production©PARCIC
organic tea cultivation©PARCIC

Producers in Sri Lanka engaged in dried seafood production (L)
and organic tea cultivation (R).
©PARCIC

Q.So you feel it is important to use the deliciousness of food to bring people together.

A herb event in East Timor.©PARCIC

A herb event in East Timor.
©PARCIC

A.Ms. Inoue:What directly led to supporting coffee production in East Timor was an experience whereby I was offered coffee by some local farmers. The whole process of making the coffee took more than two hours (laughing). Somebody had to go to the river for water, they then started a fire, and they then roasted the beans. That being said, however, the end result was a very thick coffee that had bean-remnants in it. It was delicious!! I remember tasting it and thinking, "this is winner!" Indeed, that something is "delicious" is very important. Furthermore, "delicious" food demonstrates that people have taken care when preparing it. These days everything is connected together globally. These connections, however, are based on the assumption that everything can be converted to money. What we want is to use "deliciousness" to connect together the warmth of people. These are the sort of relationships that we aim for through our activities.

Q.And you also expanded your activities to work in areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

In Kitakami, Ishinomaki City,wakame seaweed aquaculture has recommenced.©PARCIC

In Kitakami, Ishinomaki City,
wakame seaweed aquaculture
has recommenced.
©PARCIC

A.Ms. Inoue:For an organization whose conceptualization is "person-to-person assistance that goes beyond national borders," it was unexpected that we might find ourselves operating in the Tohoku Region. Actually, I was in Sri Lanka when the earthquake hit, and, as a nation who had experienced similar devastation from tsunami, the Sri Lankans were very concerned as if the quake in Japan was something that also impacted them directly. At the time, I wondered if there was something that PARCIC should be doing. Our first activities in the Tohoku Region involved care facilities for old people and small evacuation centers comprised of perhaps five or six households. These were locations to which the necessary supplies were not getting through. We "did the rounds and took the orders" by asking if there was anything these locations required. At the end of 2011, we started to support the recovery of fishing and agriculture in Kitakami, Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. This activity has involved supporting the production of processed local specialties, an area in which we excel. We are also offering community support in order that the regional culture does not die out.

Q.Have you also felt the power of "people coming together" in the Tohoku Region?

Women cultivating vegetables, also in Kitakami.©PARCIC

Women cultivating vegetables,
also in Kitakami.
©PARCIC

A.Ms. Inoue:In the downtown areas of Ishinomaki that were devastated by tsunami, for senior citizens who didn't evacuate to centers but rather decided to live in their partially-demolished homes, we established four community cafés called "Ochakko." These cafés are somewhere to get necessary information and experience some relaxation through the enjoyment of tea and meals, etc. In that young student volunteers have also frequented these cafés, senior citizens have been really happy that such young people have taken a genuine interest in wanting to hear what they have to say. The students are also very happy with such opportunities, and everybody seems to be getting along famously. Before the cafés started, there were concerns from a mental healthcare perspective, etc., that these young volunteers lacked specialist knowledge. However, such fears were unfounded. It seems people have developed lasting friendships that continue to the present, and this makes me feel that the basis of everything is the idea of people coming together.

Q.I would assume that you have experienced a number of difficulties with your various activities.

A.Ms. Inoue:(Laughing) We have had our fair share. Using East Timor as an example, it achieved independence after being controlled by both Portugal and Indonesia. Starting out from basically nothing, there was almost nobody in the country to shoulder the responsibilities of nation-building. From the business perspective as well, nobody could do bookkeeping, or make allowances for depreciation experienced by equipment in storage, etc. Over our 10 years of support activities in East Timor, PARCIC has achieved consistency in the coffee crop. However, Japanese staff are still responsible for management and export matters. Furthermore, we haven't been able to predict crop volumes, and last year we ended up with 100 tons of coffee! (Laughing) What makes me bury my head these days is worrying about how we will sell it all. Then again, a woman who never had the opportunity of education learnt how to read and calculate by working with PARCIC. She has got to the point of being able to enter financial data into computers, and she also works very hard as a women's group organizer. Seeing people grow in this way is perhaps what makes me happiest.

Q.And last year you established Awajicho Marché within your Tokyo office?

A.Ms. Inoue:Although only very small, in addition to coffee, tea and herb tea products, Awajicho Marché also features products and organically-grown vegetables from other fair trade organizations and farmers with whom we have contact. We established Awajicho Marché because we wanted to develop a contact point with those living around us. Also, placing vegetables in the vicinity of our office entrance conveys a somewhat liberating feeling. It also makes me happy that, for a lot of people, establishing Awajicho Marché has given them an opportunity to know something of our activities.

Ms. Nakamura:Since establishing Awajicho Marché, we have had more opportunities to talk to people who come and check us out. Some ask us what we are doing, and they are very surprised to hear we are an NGO. It is the same when we do promotional events. It is difficult for people to appreciate our activities just by hearing our explanations. Starting out, we get people to try our coffees and our teas, then it is good to have them appreciate something of the people who make these products.

Awajicho Marché opened at the offices of PARCIC. In addition to the coffees, teas and herb teas of which the store is very proud, there are also organically-grown vegetables available.
Awajicho Marché opened at the offices of PARCIC. In addition to the coffees, teas and herb teas of which the store is very proud, there are also organically-grown vegetables available.

Awajicho Marché opened at the offices of PARCIC.
In addition to the coffees, teas and herb teas of which the store is very proud,
there are also organically-grown vegetables available.

Q.And is there anything that we can also do to cooperate?

Offering drink samples at Global Festa.©PARCIC

Offering drink samples at Global Festa.
©PARCIC

A.Ms. Inoue:Because we have so few hands, we are looking for a large number of volunteers who are willing to participate. For example, at events such as Earth Day and Global Festa, etc., we want volunteers who will happily recommend and hand out coffee samples to visitors, as well as people who are willing to help us with sales.

Ms. Nakamura:I actually started with PARCIC as a volunteer. I used to travel around Asia a lot, and I was really surprised that everybody was so nice. There was something within me that desired to connect with such people. At university, I also learnt of fair trade, and it is an idea that I have clung to, and I wanted to do something associated with it. When you talk about NGOs, there is a sense of there being a very high threshold. Thus, I also needed a fair bit of courage when opening the doors to this office. However, with our store now located at the entrance, I would be very happy if people visited us with a relaxed frame of mind.

Q.Please give a final message to our readers.

A.Ms. Inoue:As a first step, I would ask that people try our delicious coffee and tea products. Next, I would really like it if people visited the regions where these products are produced. Here at PARCIC, we organize a number of tours to East Timor, Sri Lanka, and the devastated areas of the Tohoku Region. On our overseas tours, participants get to see something of the lives led by the farmers who cultivate our coffees and teas. Being able to experience the unusual, such as traditional Ayurveda medicine which underpins these communities, is also very popular. Inspecting manufacturing and processing sites also gives the opportunity to taste totally different coffees and teas.

A study tour to meet producers.©PARCIC

A study tour to meet producers.
©PARCIC

The PARCIC offices in Tokyo.  A warm atmosphere along with the charms of Asian aromas.

The PARCIC offices in Tokyo.
A warm atmosphere along with
the charms of Asian aromas.