People aren’t often motivated to fight poverty unless they have a personal encounter with it. For Barrett Ward, executive director of Mocha Club, this “cataclysmic” experience occurred on a trip to Peru, when he saw a little girl emerging from a tin shack.
“I just was so struck by this image that I’d never seen before. It was poverty, up-close and personal.”
After leaving his career in the for-profit world, Ward spent significant time in Africa and later returned with photographer Jeremy Cowart and musicians Dave Barnes and Matt Wertz. It was then that the concept of Mocha Club was born. The friends realized the $7 it took to buy about two mochas in the U.S. could mean massive provisions such as clean water or AIDS medication in under-developed areas. By giving up two coffee breaks, someone could redistribute a small sum and save lives.
“I had a real increasing frustration and burden for young people who felt like they could not have an impact on the poor,” Ward says. “When we describe the problems or the challenges that many Africans face, it is placed on such a global level that people don’t feel like they can have an effect on that.”
Mocha Club phrases the solutions to these complex problems in simple, practical terms. In this case, a couple cups of coffee. “Translating that message to a one-on-one basis between a Westerner and an African is where we’ve had the most impact. These direct ties are what resonate most [with people],” Ward adds.
But it’s not just about the difference an individual can make. Mocha Club has an online community where members can create profiles and build a team to donate to and advocate for one of five projects: clean water, education, orphan/vulnerable children care, HIV/AIDS and health care, or child/mothers/women at risk.
Musicians and artists serve as sponsors for the various causes, emphasizing those that are most urgent. Cowart, Barnes and Wertz were the original group, but the list has now expanded to include such notable names as Gungor, Lady Antebellum, Sanctus Real and more. Ward identifies this as Mocha Club’s “distribution channel for awareness.” “Obviously, they are a great mouthpiece to this generation.”
After teams have donated to Mocha Club, funding goes to development projects in 20 different communities located in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The model on the ground is “Africans helping Africans.” Each project is completely staffed by locals, and are often tested for efficiency and impact. “We’ve been fortunate to come alongside some fabulous leadership in each of those countries,” Ward says.
Beyond giving up $7 a month, there are a variety of ways for people to get involved and promote Mocha Club’s work. In the summertime, teams even travel to Ethiopia and Kenya to observe some of the projects their donations have supported.
“One of the things that has happened recently along social justice lines is that [we’ve] helped people see the ‘why,’ and as that happens, people often pick up their own ‘how.’ Once people have seen, they feel an appropriate responsibility to make it part of their daily life to advocate for the poor,” Ward says. “Action has to follow faith.”
For more information, visit MochaClub.org.