This is our inaugural article in our new Coffee Kids column on CoffeeGeek. Every few weeks we’ll be featuring either original content covering Coffee Kids’ involvement in Latin America, or reprinting an article from the organization’s Voz Newsletter. This time around, we’re featuring a fantastic article form José Luis Zarate who travelled to Central America for Coffee Kids to get a better sense of ways the organization can work with local communities.
Strength of Spirit
by José Luis Zarate
According to an old adage, even the longest journey begins with a single step. This perhaps leads us to believe that we will easily arrive at our destination. However, the journey is not always so simple. We sometimes take more steps backward than forward, and we at times find ourselves immobilized.
I often wonder what makes an idea successful in one context but not in another, why a working model that has proven itself in one place is not as efficient, or perhaps doesn’t work at all, in another.
I know that experts in mathematical and conceptual models would say that the variables, parameters and relationships incorporated into the model are insufficient to operate in every place. And they’re probably right, which usually leads us to design more complex conceptual and detailed models that allow us to predict the final results, or the outputs, from the inputs. Up to this point, science seems to help us solve the problem of how to get where we want. I must confess that I take these ways of measuring the impact of an idea or project very seriously.
With these ideas buzzing around in my head, I traveled from Mexico to Nicaragua to visit some of the communities that Coffee Kids currently supports with education and microcredit projects.
My first stop was at a school in Jinotega. It immediately caught my attention that some children shared the same seat with other children; others used an upside down plastic bucket or a wooden beam as a makeshift seat. My first reaction upon seeing their working conditions was one of sadness. However, each one of the children greeted me with a smile and a powerful Buenos días!.
I asked them to tell me what they dream of being when they grow up. I want to be a doctor! I want to be a teacher! I want to be a painter! I want to be a soccer player!
All of this energy helped me put aside, albeit for only a moment, what they were lacking and make room for their optimism. Although, deep inside of me, I kept thinking of the scarce opportunities they will have to become what they wish.
The next day, I met a group of six young students who manufacture chocolates in a small factory that they operate as part of a scholarship project for youth business initiatives.
“We’re buying cocoa from a producer in the cooperative,” they told me. “We process and sell it in the organization’s cafeteria.” Then they told me, “One day we’ll buy all the cocoa from all the members of the cooperative, and we’ll sell our chocolates not only in the region, but throughout the country and maybe even in other countries.”
The determination and strength in their words struck me because I realized that they not only know this will be something difficult to achieve, but they also know they need the knowledge and the means by which to do it. They are convinced that they can achieve their objective.
My journey then took me to the city of Matagalpa where I visited other young participants in the project. I had stopped to eat something on the way when a very old man approached me and offered to sell me some very curious candies.
“They’re made from donkey milk,” he told me, “and they’re very good. I prepare them myself so that I can buy my food. I sell five candies for six córdobas.”
As I saw that he was truly a humble man in need, I agreed to buy his candy, but when I counted them, I realized that there were six instead of five candies. I informed him of his error, to which he replied with considerable pride, “The sixth candy is a gift. You know, I work and make these sweets to earn my living, but that’s not the only reason I make them. I also work because I make friends while I sell them, and it seems that you’re not from here. Thank you for buying my candy, and have a good trip buddy!”
And then he said goodbye, leaving me surprised and touched.
When I met with the last group of young adults, I received a warm greeting and was offered a glass of water, which I preferred to get for myself from the community assembly hall kitchen. There I met a girl who was busy chopping vegetables. “The kitchen is my domain,” she said. “I like to cook. I learned a lot from my grandmother, but cooking is what I like most.”
She told me that she is a board member of the local youth group. She is very detail-oriented, likes to make things right, and enjoys serving her peers. She’s a student, and her scholarship allows her to pay for her studies in accounting. “Thanks to the scholarship we can keep moving forward and continue studying,” she said. She also teaches at a local preschool. What she earns there helps her get closer to achieving her dreams. She would like to finish her studies, work and visit other places, as well as continue to help her community and her peers.
To attend college, she must travel every weekend to the city of Matagalpa, which is a one-hour trip by bus. Sometimes when the transportation is scarce she hitches a ride or walks to school, but doesn’t complain and is convinced that the effort is worthwhile.
I suddenly found myself thinking that this girl has big dreams that will be difficult to achieve — a lot of ambition and few opportunities. But during our conversation she told me that she loves the theater and is part of a local group that recently received a visit from a group of foreign students. The visitors came up with the idea to invite them to Europe to present their work. A few months later, she was in France with some of her peers, showing their work while learning from others.
When my journey ended, I kept thinking about those variables that determine the success or the failure of an idea or a project. On this trip I once again saw that the desire to progress, a good attitude, confidence, self-respect, the ability to dream, and perseverance are variables that are difficult to include in a mathematical model. But without a doubt, they make a big difference when it comes to the failure or the success of a working model.
I realized that these communities have traveled far since that first small step. They may always need some form of help, but who doesn’t at times? The difference is that these people have an inner strength that allows them to capitalize on their resources. They are my best example at this time of how a strong spirit contributes to the success of a project. They are the inspiration of others. They are, in fact, the inspiration that captures the work and the mission of Coffee Kids.
Ed.note: This is our launch article for the new Coffee Kids column. Coffee Kids is a charitable organization working with farmers and communities in Latin America to improve lives, education, the products they grow and a lot more. Please consider supporting this great organization with your charitable donations.