Growing Peace: A Story of Farming, Music, and Religious Harmony

By Richard Sobol. Lee and Low Books, 2016. 40 pages. $18.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 7 and up.

The apt title of this charming picture book tells us what it is about. This book would be a delightful addition to the library of every Quaker meeting where fair trade coffee is offered. Richard Sobol’s beautiful color photographs portray how coffee is grown and harvested by a diverse community in Uganda. The Peace Kawomera Growers Co-op Society came to be as a direct result of the tragic attack on Manhattan’s Twin Towers in 2001.

Sobol met the popular Ugandan musician J.J. Keki when J.J. was invited to teach at a summer camp in Western Massachusetts. At the end of the summer, J.J. toured a bit of the United States. He was emerging from the subway outside the World Trade Center at the very moment a plane hit one of the towers.

J.J. returned to Uganda in November 2001. He continued to work on his coffee farm in Namanyonyi where he also enjoys writing and playing music. This area of Uganda had suffered years of civil war and religious persecution. Naturally, J.J. could not stop thinking about his experience in New York City. He thought the attack was a result of religious intolerance and wondered why people of different religions could not live and work together in peace.

Namanyonyi has Christian, Muslim, and Jewish residents. Sobol gives the reader a concise history of the culture and explains how these religious communities came to be located in Uganda. J.J. wanted to create a way for people of different religions to live peacefully together. Although the children from these different spiritual communities played together, the adults remained separate.

J.J.’s music and his welcoming home are described as the central hub for the young people. The children do their homework at J.J.’s home, and he encourages their various spiritual paths. J.J. visited the parents and suggested they combine their individual coffee farms. Initially there was resistance. Each day as the children returned home from J.J.’s house, they sang one of his songs, “In Uganda, Everyone Grows Coffee.” The song became a mantra for peace, and in 2004 the coffee collective was formed. Today the Peace Kawomera (“Delicious Peace”) Cooperative Society ships 40 tons of raw coffee beans to the United States annually. It is refreshing to learn the backstory of the fair trade coffee we purchase and inspiring to read about the collective made up of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

A glossary and pronunciation guide are included in the book. J.J. Keki’s music is available through Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

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