Spreading a message through coffee

Robbie Francis at the University of Otago yesterday. Photo: Linda Robertson
Robbie Francis at the University of Otago yesterday. Photo: Linda Robertson
Robbie Francis does not mind if a few coffee lovers close their eyes and briefly forget the planet's woes while they sip their favourite drink.

But Ms Francis (29), who graduates from the University of Otago today with a PhD in peace and conflict studies, does have a serious message for people who are ready to smell the coffee, and to open their eyes.

Ms Francis is an award-winning campaigner for people with disabilities, and lives with a disability herself.

She is also helping provide New Zealand with a supply of imported ethical coffee from southern Mexico, which includes workers with disabilities at every stage.

Ms Francis grew up in Hamilton, and in 2013 she interned with Disability Rights International, a disability rights group, in Mexico.

There she saw the shocking conditions many people with disabilities worked in.

She and her friends then co-founded The Lucy Foundation in 2014, a social enterprise organisation which works with Mexican communities to develop disability inclusiveness.

The impetus to start the foundation came from a conversation with the late Donna-Rose McKay, who had headed Otago University's Disability Information and Support.

Ms Francis was excited about graduating, but yesterday she was also ''feeling the responsibility'' for much work that remained to be done.

She has phocomelia syndrome, which means she was born without several bones in her lower legs.

After major constructive therapy, she wears a prosthetic limb she has called her ''Lucy Leg''.

Her PhD focused on ''Nothing about us, without us: The Pursuit of inclusive and accessible positive peace''.

The research had highlighted ''the absence of the disability community from peace research and practice''.

The experiences of Colombian and Venezuelan people with disabilities who had sought asylum and refuge within Ecuador were also investigated.

During her ''three-year PhD journey'', the Otago Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies had been the ''perfect place'' to undertake her research, and her ''disability'' had become ''expertise and a strength''.

Ms Francis urges coffee lovers to reflect on where it ''came from and who made it''.

''Coffee is a catalyst for change and we should treat it as such.

''I'm a dreamer but also I'm a doer,'' she said.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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