When you read the news as you drink your morning coffee, it can seem like there’s so much wrong with the world that it’s impossible to help or effect positive change.
My way of fighting that powerless feeling is to focus on Eleva’s goal of doing a lot of good in a few specific places—namely, the three small farming communities that grow our coffee in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Ethiopia. Eleva’s mission is to connect the people who grow the coffee with the people who drink it, so we can learn from each other and improve each others’ lives.
I got to see the interaction first hand last month when 12 students from McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin came to Santa Palencia to spend a week refurbishing the schools that the community’s children attend, a trip organized by Eleva, McCombs, Building Bridges Worldwide, and Mercon Coffee, and funded through the efforts of the students.
The schools are much improved—walls were painted, the roof repaired, and the foundation strengthened. But what impressed me most was seeing the people of Santa Palencia and the McCombs students grow to know each other as they shared meals, worked together, and played soccer at night. Every day, the volunteers, farmers, and people from the community ate delicious meals prepared by Doña Lucia, who also happens to be the town representative. The students slept in the local coffee mill of Don Gregorio, as did his son, who acted as their guide. Before the students arrived, Don Gregorio insisted on building a wall so that women could sleep on one side, men on the other, in privacy, and installed an outdoor shower where everyone could rinse off before hitting the air mattresses on the floor.
It was the first time the people of Santa Palencia had a group of foreigners living with them and sharing their day-to-day activities. For the coffee farmers, it was also the first time they met someone who had drank their product. This was a major source of pride for them. And for me.
The MBA students loved seeing the results of their work, eating lots of rice and beans, and playing baseball with the kids, but they told me their favorite part of the week was the Q and A session with the coffee farmers, where they were able to learn what it takes to produce coffee, and what it’s like to live in rural Guatemala, where high school isn’t an option for most children, as local public schools end at 8th grade, and the most affordable private schools start at $30 a month—too much to spare for the family of a coffee farmer earning $100 a month. The MBA students learned about the difficulties the farmers face, but also their joy and pride in their work and their community, and their hopes for future generations.
My hope for the future is that Eleva will continue to drive these interactions between coffee farmers and coffee drinkers, whether that’s through social action trips with university students or other volunteers, or just by inspiring coffee lovers to take a trip to visit the people who start their mornings off right, making the wide world feel a little smaller.
I'm confident that neither the children of Santa Palencia nor the students of UT Austin will ever forget this week. And that makes me feel that if anything has the ability to change our world, it’s the power of connecting with each other.