CLEARWATER, Fla. - The experience was life changing, David Buchanan said. The Phillies righthander traveled to Rwanda two years ago with the Kula Project, a foundation cofounded by his sister that invests in small-scale farmers to create sustainable communities.
Buchanan returned home humbled. The people he helped had nothing, yet Buchanan said they were the happiest people he's ever met.
Buchanan, 25, was unable to return to Africa this offseason because of the Ebola outbreak. He is planning a trip after this season. Buchanan helped teach farming techniques and distributed food.
"But really, we helped them help themselves," Buchanan said. "If you go over there and do everything for them, they're not going to know how to do it when we leave. We really just taught them how to provide for themselves."
Buchanan began selling Kula Project shirts to his teammates this week. He changed into one after he threw five scoreless innings of a 3-0 win against the Minnesota Twins. The second-year pitcher kept hitters off balance with an aggressive change-up. He struck out three batters, walked none, and allowed two hits.
Buchanan is expected to make his first opening-day roster and be a part of the team's starting rotation. He debuted in the majors last May and finished the season with a 3.75 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 20 starts. Buchanan has allowed six hits and just one run in his last 13 spring innings. Monday was his longest outing of the spring and he should pitch one more time before the season starts.
"The last couple outings, I've been focused on just throwing strikes and doing what I do," he said. "I think that's really helped me progress on the field. I'm just trying to prove myself. If I earn a spot, that's fantastic. But it's out of my control. All I can do is try to get the batters out."
Buchanan's sister, Sarah, started the Kula Project in 2012 after returning home from a mission trip to Africa. Kula means "to eat" in Swahili and a "community of heart" in Sanskrit. The organization raises money to teach farmers in Rwanda how to properly grow coffee and banana trees. Then it provides the farmers with high-quality seeds and makes sure there is a fair-trade market where the farmers can sell their crops.
The Kula Project aims to spark economic development, not just provide short-time aid. The organization says that investing in a farmer provides twice as much of a chance to eliminate poverty than if someone invested in any other sector of development. Buchanan said his sister "does amazing things."
The proceeds from the shirts go directly to the foundation. Buchanan first brought them into the clubhouse when he was at double-A Reading. On Friday, he tacked a sign on the clubhouse bulletin board and turned his locker stall into a pop-up store. He displayed the two new designs on hangers and teammates lined up to buy them.
"Last year, being a rookie, I was kind of hesitant. But I asked [manager Ryne Sandberg] and he said it was cool," Buchanan said. "All the guys were fantastic about it. They all supported me and bought shirts. A lot of them bought more than one. They'll give me cash and tell me to keep the change to donate right to the foundation. The guys are really supportive and they're open to helping."