We travel for a number of reasons, with a variety of objectives in mind. Some travelers take time off from work and want to disconnect from their regular routine. Cruise vacations are custom built for just that. Others are traveling on business, getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. We see them in airports; the ones that seem to know what they are doing. By plane, train, bus, car, at sea or on land, we run across these travelers and each one has a story. Sometimes, those stories can be one of the most enriching, rewarding experiences of all our travels, if we take the time to listen. Today we begin Met Along The Way, a new series that hopes to capture one of our favorite parts of travel.
It was on a river cruise not long ago, this one with luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, that I met Joe and Jo Ford, introducing themselves that first night at a dinner in Munich just that way. “I’m Joe and this is my wife Jo: Joe and Jo,” said an infectiously likable Joe Ford, adding “no relation to the car company,” as the meal began. After introductions all around including a bit of background on each of us, Joe went into one of the most remarkable stories I have heard from a fellow traveler, one that became a highlight of the trip.
It was on a trip to Rwanda where Joe and his son Scott, formerly in the telecommunications business, saw shockingly deplorable conditions in the production of coffee beans. Workers were paid very little, worked long days and had little to look forward to. They were “the poorest of the poor” Joe told me and the Fords started to develop a relationship with Rwanda’s president, setting up a school for orphans. But they wanted to do more; they wanted to change lives.
The answer was to set up Rwanda Trading, a company determined to improve the lives of Rwandan coffee farmers in an economy still recovering from the genocide of the 1990’s. Their facility provides workers with restrooms, shower facilities, a hot meal every day, a wage 35 cents more an hour than other operators and a retirement plan.
The result of this effort that we can see here in the United States is Westrock Coffee, sold in a growing number of stores around the country. The result of the effort seen in Rwanda are people with a reason for living, the ability to send their children to school and the dignity that comes from being treated fairly. Said one worker “I was broke and broken. Now my debts are paid in full and I am able to make a living,” thanks to the Ford’s efforts.
Interestingly, the Abercrombie & Kent river cruise I was on is part of their “Connections” product which aims to bring travelers in direct contact with those who live and work at the destinations they visit. How appropriate for me to meet Joe and Jo and hear the story of Rwanda Trading Company and Westrock Coffee.
Traveling with Joe Ford was not unlike many others we have encountered during our travels though. On ships of all sizes, sailing on rivers or in oceans, the people and their stories are there and can be one of the most interesting parts of travel, if we take time to listen.
Stay tuned for more interesting stories of people we Met Along The Way from time to time, we’ve got a bunch of them and each is unique in their own way.
Want to know more about Westrock, visit their website and check this video: