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Grounds for Health:
Bringing Healthcare to Female Coffee Farmers


As the coffee industry begins to slowly realize the hard work and harsh conditions that accompany life in many coffee producing areas, companies have started to give back to these communities. Among the non-profit organizations dedicated to improving living and health conditions in coffee growing countries, Grounds for Health, Inc. strives to provide health care services to industry members in Mexico and Guatemala.

The organization was established in 1996 when Dan Cox, president of Coffee Enterprises in Burlington, Vermont, and Dr. Francis Fote realized that cervical cancer is among the leading causes of death among women in Mexico. Even though cervical cancer is one of the easiest forms of cancer to treat if detected early, cancer screenings were very minimally available in these areas and, where available, of extremely poor quality. Witnessing such conditions, Cox established Grounds for Health (GFH) as a means of providing sustainable and effective cervical-uterine cancer screening programs in these regions.

To realize such a goal, GFH collaborates with regional coffee unions, community leaders, and local and American health care professionals to increase awareness about cancer as well as to improve upon the existing cancer screening infrastructure. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Ben & Jerry’s Homemade joined the organization soon after its creation and the added support allowed for the addition of pathologists to work with the already existing technical assistance, equipment and medical supplies. This allowed the project to offer on-site interpretation of pap smears and biopsies of palpable breast lumps. The small organization that began with only the support of three US. companies and one physical/philanthropist have today evolved into an independent organization that is supported by numerous coffee industry members and medical specialists. With the added support, the project now oversees cancer-screening programs in Pluma Hidalgo and Pochutla in Oaxaca and Huatusco in Veracruz.

Once ever six months American volunteers visit the clinics in these areas. Doctors, nurses, cytologists, cytopathologists, and project staff perform pap smears, read slides, and offer breast exams and biopsies for thousands of women. Besides offering medical attention and equipment, however, the goal of Grounds for Health is to also educate local doctors and community members about cervical and breast cancer. With the aid of a grant from the Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention, GFH was able to implement a health education and support program. The goals of this new program include assessment of knowledge, attitudes and behaviors regarding cervical cancer in these areas. The organization recruits and trains male and female health promoters who will then be able to not only increase cancer awareness in their communities but to also offer support to patients with cancerous or pre-cancerous conditions. A computer database has also been implemented in the project sites and hospital staff have been trained to use it in order to provide satisfactory cancer screening, follow-up and treatment for all patients.

Grounds for Health has grown since its inception into much more than its founders ever expected. Coffee companies made the development of this project into such a success possible from all around the world. Cox expresses the general feeling of shared by industry members involved in this project by saying, “I’ve traveled to hundreds of coffee farms and witnessed firsthand the toil that goes into producing specialty coffee. Families in coffee-growing regions often live in near poverty with little or no access to medical services. By working with local people and transferring skills, we have created a sustainable project that helps not only when we visit, but also after we depart.”

“Grounds for Health is really making a difference in the lives of women in some of the poorest coffee-growing communities. By offering potentially life-saving medical services free of charge and providing education about reproductive health in a respectful and sensitive manner, we allow a group of women whose needs are so often ignored to feel important and valued, “says Kiko Malin, executive director.

The establishments of organizations like Grounds for Health has slowly given many coffee farmers and their families the help they need.

Grounds for Health, 286 College Street, Burlington, Vermont 05401. Tel: (802) 865-4480.

Tea & Coffee - March/April, 2003


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