In the mountainous rain forests surrounding Matagalpa, Nicaragua, coffee farming is an intrinsic part of the culture. Maria Farahani was born into one of these coffee-growing families.
“We had been producing coffee for three generations when I was born, and we lived a comfortable life with running water, electricity and telephone,” Farahani says. “But many around us were very poor. They lived in shacks and wore tattered clothes. That made a big impression on me, and from that time I always wanted to do something to make a difference.”
Farahani left Nicaragua in 1975 to attend the University of Texas in Austin. In the mid-1990s, she followed her family’s tradition into the coffee business with her husband, Manny, purchasing coffee farms in Matagalpa and selling the shade-grown beans from Austin. But the Farahanis had a further mission: to provide needed resources for the people of the Matagalpa area.
"We live between two worlds,” Farahani explains. “One where there are so many resources, medical advances and people with big caring hearts, and another where they also have a big heart but have extremely limited resources and are behind in advances. By creating Fara Foundation we are building a bridge between the two."
The couple helped with food for the needy, educational opportunities for young people and assistance for elder care. The need was great, especially for medical care. Cervical cancer is the No. 1 killer of women over 30 in Nicaragua, and vascular disease is also a debilitating problem among impoverished laborers who work on their feet all day.
While meeting with local health authorities and nonprofits Austin Samaritans and Grounds for Health, the idea of opening a health clinic was dreamed up. As the owners of Fara Coffee, and with local ties and resources, the Farahanis created the Fara Foundation and opened the Fara Clinic at the end of 2010.
“Already it's become the main referral hub for cervical cancer patients in the entire area,” Farahani reports. “It's also become a resource for women who need regular health care and for anyone in the region who can't afford to see a doctor or hasn't had access to care before now.”
The clinic, which is rapidly growing, charges about $1.25 per visit to a doctor or dentist, and is operating a cervical cancer outreach program to reach women in the rural areas. Five medical facilities in the Matagalpa area are now referring women to the Fara Clinic for cervical cancer screening or treatment.
With Austin as her home base, Farahani has found a community that embraces Fara Coffee, which in turn helps finance the foundation.
“We live between two worlds,” she explains. “One where there are so many resources, medical advances and people with big caring hearts, and another where they also have a big heart but have extremely limited resources and are behind in advances. By creating Fara Foundation we are building a bridge between the two."
Though in Nicaragua they often use equipment that is "a year too old" by American standards, the clinic flourishes through its medical experts, health providers and supporters. “We have a great medical staff at Fara Clinic: a gynecologist, cervical cancer specialist, general practitioner, registered nurse, dentist and our clinic director, all of whom know the people and the culture and who happily work with American counterparts.”
The clinic has taken off “like wildfire” and expanded, says Farahani; the foundation is also growing. It started a higher education scholarship and the very first recipient, Yaritza, graduated from college at the end of 2012. The Fara Foundation also announced a new director, Merriman Morton, in December.
A native Texan, former banker and long-time philanthropist, Morton brings years of experience in organizing and fund-raising for charitable causes. He has an economics degree from Southwestern University in Georgetown, where he was previously chairman of the Board of Trustees and still sits on that board. Philanthropy — particularly in the education and health care sectors — is an innate passion.
Giving is part of “what we do as people,” says Morton. "I think that Texans — and most people who have had some degree of success — feel the desire and the responsibility to share what they have, to give back when they can."
A natural outgrowth of the foundation's expansion is to team up with other like-minded organizations and individuals. “Groups and people that have an interest in the sort of activity in which we are involved," Morton explains. "We are reaching out to hospitals and other foundations to see if we can explore the idea of partnerships.”
And how can Austin help? “We're young, we're growing and expanding, so we of course welcome monetary donations," Morton says. "And we always can use educational materials for the schools we help support in Nicaragua, medical supplies and equipment, volunteers.”
For more information on The Fara Foundation, visit the organization's website.