You are here


IRTF Events Calendar

April 27, 2021 to June 27, 2021: Spring Appeal: We Cannot Do This Work without YOU!

Spring 2021

Dear friend of IRTF, 

My name is Pearl Chen, and I am the newest full-time volunteer with IRTF. I joined the team in November of 2020, and my focus is on environmental human rights.

I grew up in the suburbs of Columbus as a child of two Chinese immigrants. My parents did everything they could to make sure I never had to undergo the same struggles they did growing up and instilled in me the importance of hard work and resilience in the face of adversity. They made sure that I grew up with all my basic needs taken care of, and because of this, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to dream of ways I could do something I love while making the world a better place. When I began to learn the many ways that poverty prevents people from reaching their own dreams, I decided that I wanted to direct my career towards alleviating poverty in any way I could.

For college, I attended The Ohio State University and studied environmental and humanitarian engineering, combining my passions for environmental protection and sustainable development. However, in my coursework, I was shocked to learn that many well-intentioned attempts to alleviate poverty actually exacerbated it, often because those in charge of development efforts do not consult with local communities for solutions, or the efforts use a one-size-fits-all approach. This was my first exposure to the concept of solidarity over charity, of meeting peoples and communities where they are.

It was also in college that I dove deep into my spirituality for the first time and developed a daily meditation practice. Through this practice, I have been gifted with opportunities to reflect on the divinity that connects all of humankind, to feel love between myself and those I have never met, and to understand that my struggle and resistance cannot stop while that of my global family continues.

After college, I moved to Cleveland to start working as an environmental engineering consultant. For a number of reasons, I knew by this point that the engineering industry was not where my passions lay. I made plans to work for a year and save money so I could join the Peace Corps and at least use my degree. Once the pandemic began, however, Peace Corps was no longer a viable option, and like everyone, I was feeling anxious about everything that was happening. To address this feeling, I started organizing through Sunrise-Cleveland and IRTF. I loved it and found myself wanting to spend all my time contributing to the movement, which led me to quit my job and start a volunteer fellowship with IRTF.

Since starting at IRTF, I have been volunteering with Utilities For All, a local advocacy group for utility justice; I also started a related campaign for water equity through Sunrise-Cleveland.  When the pandemic started, the city instituted a moratorium on shut-offs due to underpayment of utilities, and we have been focused on making resources for utility assistance more widely available. At the beginning of December, however, the city decided to lift this moratorium, putting hundreds of thousands of Cleveland residents at risk of having their water, gas, and electricity shut off right as the winter became especially brutal. So, through a series of meetings and events, we are organizing NE Ohioans to demand a moratorium on utility shut-offs and more transparency in how public utilities are managed. Our current petition campaign came out of an online town hall meeting in February, which highlighted how Cleveland should have done better with its pandemic response and how we need to demand more from our publicly-owned utilities.

Until our demands are met, we will not stop organizing because water is life and utilities are a human right.

This belief also holds for those working to defend water in Latin America. People, in many cases, are putting their entire lives on the line in the struggle for liberation; that is why I have started volunteering with the Honduras Solidarity Network to defend the political prisoners of Guapinol. Since September 2019, eight political prisoners have been held in preventative (pre-trial) detention. These eight are defenders of the Guapinol River, their community’s primary source for drinking water. They were violently removed from and arrested for their peaceful participation in a legitimate protest camp meant to resist the mining of the national park where they reside. There are countless illegalities and acts of corruption related to the granting of licenses for the operation of the iron ore mining project, which is funded by the U.S. company Nucor Steel. The Guapinol case has received national and international attention because it highlights the restrictions that exist in Honduras regarding freedom of association, assembly, and the right to protest against environmentally destructive extractive projects imposed without the consent of affected communities. 

These are difficult times we are living in, and I’m afraid that in many ways, things will not be getting easier anytime soon. In my spiritual practice, we use the Sanskrit term sangha, meaning a community rooted in understanding and love to move towards greater truth and purpose. In order to succeed in the struggle for a more beautiful, just world, both for people here at home and for our global family, we need to hold on tight to our sangha. Activist Naima Penniman offers this reflection: 

“When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, almost everything lost its footing. Houses were detached from their foundations, trees and shrubbery were uprooted, sign posts and vehicles floated down the rivers that became of the streets. But amidst the whipping winds and surging water, the oak tree held its ground. How? Instead of digging its roots deep and solitary into the earth, the oak tree grows its roots wide and interlocks with other oak trees in the surrounding area. And you can’t bring down a hundred oak trees bound beneath the soil! How do we survive the unnatural disasters of climate change, environmental injustice, over-policing, mass-imprisonment, militarization, economic inequality, corporate globalization, and displacement? We must connect in the underground, my people! In this way, we shall survive.”

IRTF has a mission to meet people where they are and build community and solidarity with people working towards liberation and justice across nations, and we cannot do this work without you, a part of our sangha. Please consider making a gift to IRTF today so we can continue adding strength to this mission.

Thank you.

Pear Chen, Volunteer Fellow


IRTF Board of Trustees:

Rachel Rosen DeGolia, JP Graulty (treasurer), Rev. Ellen Huffman (co-chair), Yolanda King (secretary), Genevieve Mitchell, Diane Pinchot, OSU (co-chair), Joann Rymarczyk-Piotrkowski (Community Shares rep), Akshai Singh, Sarah Sommers



InterReligious Task Force  on Central America  & Colombia

3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland OH 44113

(216) 961 0003

June 24, 2021: 2021-22 Nicaragua Delegation Information Session
6pm Nicaragua/ 5pm PST/ 8pm EST
Register for this webinar at
Have questions about delegations to Nicaragua organized by Friends of the ATC? Want to know more about what exactly a delegation is?
Join us for an online information session on Thursday June 24th 6pm Nicaragua/ 5pm PST/ 8pm ET. We will be discussing everything you need to know such as the history of the ATC, hearing from past delegation members, learning about the upcoming delegation activities and logistics, and answering all of your questions!
Register for this webinar at

The delegations that will be discussed in this information session are:

September 3 – 13, 2021
(Applications due June 30th!!!!) 

(Tentative – early November 2021)

December 3 – 13, 2021

January 4 – 14, 2022


June 30, 2021: Food Action Forum - Make Our Food System Fair!
7-8pm ET
Zoom meeting via internet

Read more about this initiative at Equal Exchange :

Upcoming meetings on Wednesdays in 2021, 7pm Eastern Time

Feb 10, Mar 10, Apr 14, May 12, Jun 30

Registration: These monthly meetings are a space meant for members of the forum who come together on a regular basis. To be invited to the monthly meetings, we ask that you fill out Equal Exchange's citizen-consumer application  to indicate your interest in this work, Equal Exchange as a worker-owned cooperative, and working for justice in the food system. We want to have this space be a members' space and not a space that is just a one-off for folks to come and go. This virtual member meeting space is one  where we organize around various activities and dig deeper into the context of our farmer partners, market conditions and Equal Exchange. It is meant to be an opportunity for folks who have decided to join the Equal Exchange citizen-consumer (aka Food Action Forum) network. 

Equal Exchange's citizen-consumer application 
Once you fill out the application, Equal Exchange will send a direct link to join the monthly member meetings.

Questions? Contact . 


*What are ATOs? Alternative Trade Organizations (ATOs) are at risk

Equal Exchange was founded in 1986 as an alternative trade organization (ATO) with the mission of connecting US consumers and small marginalized farmers from the global south from countries like Nicaragua, Peru, or India.  The vitality (and survivability) of ATOs is at risk because of increasing isolation from even their most natural allies  like food co-ops. Here are some other reasons: 

1- Fair-Washing: Fair Trade is being stripped of its original meaning

The Fair Trade idea may have won successes in the last 10 years, but those successes have been limited. And in the process of gaining recognition and support, control has been wrested from small farmers and turned into a marketing attribute at the service of northern companies; it has been commodified and stripped of all real meaning. While some northern ATOs are still here and hundreds of farmer groups in the Global South hang on, "Fair Trade” as envisioned 30 years ago, is no longer recognizable.


2- Corporate Control: Our food system is being controlled by large corporations

In the wider food system, corporations control everything from seeds to supply and prices, while relentlessly chipping away at the regulations that inform and protect consumers. They fight feverishly to prevent us from knowing if GMOs are present in our food. They continue to promote production methods that hasten the warming of the planet—a present-day threat to millions of small farmers and others around the world. And, corporations count on consumers remaining unorganized to maintain the status quo.   


What We Can Do Together

We need active consumer involvement to make a difference

We now know that we cannot possibly succeed in our goal to transform the food system without the active, deep and committed participation of citizen-consumers like you. An authentic Fair Trade system requires democratic organizing of producers in the South, worker democracy for businesses in the North, and active consumer involvement in the North. 

What Are We Building?

We are taking a powerful, new step in building a democratic brand that connects small farmers in the South to consumers in the North. We believe that in order to be successful in realizing the original Fair Trade vision, we need to deepen involvement and participation in our model. In doing this, we go back to the best that Alternative Trade has always been about: innovation, global solidarity, social imagining and learning, and economic justice. This will be a long, slow process and a great challenge. We need your buying support, your investing support, and your political support. 

Please join us in building this dream. We invite you to help us shape the Equal Exchange Action Forum. 

 About Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative:

This invitation to join the Food Action Forum (aka citizen-consumer network) comes from Equal Exchange, an Alternative Trade Organization (ATO) and the first fair trade coffee company in the US, which is working to build a democratic brand that connects small farmers in the Global South to consumers in the Global North. IRTF in Cleveland first introduced NE Ohioans to Equal Exchange coffee in the mid-1990s. Several faith congregations began selling Equal Exchange as an act of solidarity and justice. Heinen’s became the first grocer chain to sell Equal Exchange in all its stores in the US. IRTF and Equal Exchange have been close partners and friends ever since.

Here are some ways to get involved:

-Educate yourself. See resources on the food system, fair trade coffee, coffee producing in selected Latin American countries, sustainable farming, cooperatives, solidarity economy

-Join the Behind the Barcodes campaign

-Urge Congress to pass the Food Anti-Trust Review Act

-Become a member of the Food Action Forum

-Connect with like-minded folks at monthly Fair Trade Meet-Ups. See more at


July 6, 2021: Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration
7-8:30pm Eastern Time
Special July 6 HFOI Zoom meeting
      Please remember that HFOI July 6 meeting is a special one with Bryan Caplan as our guest speaker.  Bryan is an economist and author whose book, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, argues for unrestricted immigration.  Please pass on this message and invite friends and family to join the meeting to hear Bryan.  The meeting on July 6 begins at 7:00 p.m. via Zoom.  Here’s the Zoom link:
Join Zoom Meeting

Call-In Option: (312) 626-6799

Meeting ID: 932 1222 1762
July 6, 2021: Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration
7-8:30pm Eastern Time
Special July 6 HFOI Zoom meeting
      Please remember that HFOI July 6 meeting is a special one with Bryan Caplan as our guest speaker.  Bryan is an economist and author whose book, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, argues for unrestricted immigration.  Please pass on this message and invite friends and family to join the meeting to hear Bryan.  The meeting on July 6 begins at 7:00 p.m. via Zoom.  Here’s the Zoom link:
Join Zoom Meeting

Call-In Option: (312) 626-6799

Meeting ID: 932 1222 1762