In 2011, Divine Chocolate USA hosted one of its annual Board meetings in Washington, D.C. In attendance were Madame Christiana Ohene Agyare, President of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, and Mr. Kwasi Aduse-Poku, Managing Director of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd. The former CEO of Divine US, Mark Magers, accompanied the two at church and later met former US President Jimmy Carter at his church, the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. Read on below to learn more about the experience, as written by Mark.
Madame Christiana Ohene Agyare, President of Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union, and Mr. Kwasi Aduse-Poku, Managing Director of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd. were in the United States for a Divine Chocolate Board meeting to be held in Washington, D.C. As a part of their trip, they traveled nearly 32 hours total to get to Plains, GA with the goal of meeting President Jimmy Carter.
For most of the time since President Carter left office, he has held almost weekly Sunday School sessions at his church, part of his commitment to service of others, and also to make himself available to people.
When we arrived at the church, we waited in line for the security dog to sniff our car. Once clear of that, we were directed by a Secret Service agent about where to park and walked to the next line -- this one to check bags, purses, and individuals with security wands. We then proceeded into the sanctuary and had the honor of sitting in the front row. What followed was a briefing on ‘dos and don'ts’ once Sunday School started, and the woman instructing us, Miss Jan, was very thorough and very informative.
Among other things, we learned:
- Rosalynn Carter's first name is Eleanor
- President Carter was the first American president to be born in a hospital (his mother was a nurse)
- President Carter was the first to live in public housing (after he left the Navy)
The ground rules are necessary to make the process manageable for the church, which is quite small, and for President Carter, who at the time of our visit was 86 years young. There can be several hundred visitors on a given Sunday. Apparently, during the peak years as many as 600 people would show up.
This Sunday, there were closer to 150, including 50 Canadians on a tour bus.
President Carter came out about 10am and spoke to the crowd, finding out where people were from, and then told us what he had been up to the past week -- meeting with Kim Jong Il in North Korea. When he heard our guests say they were from Ghana, he gave them a special welcome and commented on the work the Carter Foundation has done and is doing in Ghana, both monitoring elections for fairness and also working to eradicate guinea worm from water supplies.
He then proceeded to teach the Sunday School lesson. Madame Christiana was appreciative of his comments about the scriptural foundation of gender equality, a basic tenet of Kuapa Kokoo, and Mr. Aduse-Poku took many notes. The regular service commenced next, and when Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter entered the church for the main service, they came over again and welcomed the Ghanaian visitors. After the service was over, we went outside and met briefly with the Carters, took a few pictures, and of course, gave them a sample of Divine Chocolate.
We had been told they always give away anything they are given, but Mrs. Carter seemed very interested in this particular thank you! We also spoke briefly to them about Divine's farmer-owned business model and thanked President Carter for his comments about gender equality.
After church, we went to Mom's Kitchen for fried chicken, collard greens, and other southern specialties, as did most of the local people we met at church. There, we had another round of conversations with folks who wondered who the Ghanaians were and why the Carters had spent time with them. They were thrilled to learn it was all about chocolate!