Coffee Culture: Stories From Behind The Cup (A New Series)
Coffee Reflections: The Honduras Project
Written by: Nora Johnson | Senior Manager, Commodities at MZB-USA l On behalf of Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA in partnership with Bon Café S.A. DE C.V.
Every so often you have an experience that you know is going to be one that stays with you forever. Be it an impactful conversation with a mentor, a memorable meal with family, or a once-in-a-lifetime trip, it’s an experience that you hang on to and that, whether you realize it or not, shapes you. The Gen Z-ers out there might even go as far as to say it’s a memory that, “lives rent-free in your head.” Today, I have one of those to share with you, though it is so challenging to put an experience such as this into merely a 1,000-word editorial.
Enter: The Honduras Project.
On May 17th, 2022, I had the privilege of traveling to the rural community of Guascupuzca, located in the mountains of the coffee growing town of Marcala in the department of La Paz, Honduras. This trip marked the culmination of a project that would ultimately change me: the construction of a secondary education classroom at La Escuela Jaime Martinez Guzman.
For those of you not familiar with the coffee growing landscape, this community, as with most other coffee-growing communities, is in a rural, mountainous region only accessible by trekking up the mountain side on a steep (very, very steep!), unpaved road with beautiful views. If you’re lucky, you may even have an occasional encounter with a mule transporting fertilizer up the mountain. Thanks to great work done by the Zanetti Foundation between 2012 and 2018, the community’s original adobe schoolhouse was expanded into one preschool and two primary education classrooms. Bathroom facilities, a kitchen, and dining hall were also built. Come 2020, the children had aged, and now there was an essential need: a secondary education classroom. Keep in mind that some of the kids walk 30 minutes each way to get to the school as it stands today. Without a secondary education classroom on site, the kids would need to travel down the mountain into the town of Marcala in order to continue their education. This distance required to the nearest secondary education school acts as a barrier to entry for continued education; in turn, it is at this “middle school” age that the children may instead leave school and begin working.
After learning of this need from Christian Lesage, General Manager of Bon Café S.A. DE C.V., Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA set out to fund the construction of the secondary education classroom. Through years of work in the community, Bon Café, a sister company to MZB-USA, had established trusted relationships with the families allowing them to facilitate the construction and on-the-ground work.
This brings us to May 2022 and the moment we had all been waiting for: the completion of the secondary education classroom at La Escuela Jaime Martinez Guzman!
Prior to leaving for Honduras for the inauguration of the classroom, I wanted to pick up some “treats” for the children. My thought was that the kids may not be as excited about the opening of a new classroom as I was, so I pondered what small tokens I could bring with me that might be a fun surprise for the students. Packing space was limited, so I got creative. I found a few decks of card games for the teachers, and stickers, pencils, and manual sharpeners for the kids. I was glad I thought about the manual sharpeners knowing that there would not be electricity at the school. Upon arriving in Honduras, I told my colleagues – now friends – at Bon Café about the small gifts I had to contribute to the beautiful bags the Bon Café team had prepared. My friend on the Bon Café team was grateful for the contribution and thanked me for the items, but it was what she shared next that I will never forget. She commented that these items would go great with the gift bags which included notebooks otherwise the kids would have nothing to use the pencils and stickers with… To this day I am humbled by my own naivete of thinking about the manual pencil sharpeners, but not about the lack of access to paper.
The Bon Café team planned and executed a wonderful celebration. The kids, some of their families, teachers, director of the school, president of the Patronato, and even the community Priest attended the event. Music was playing, we enjoyed lunch together, explored the classroom, and the kids ran around playing before receiving their Bon Café gift bags filled with some school supplies, snacks, and yes, even those pencils I brought along!
The students radiated happiness. They smiled and laughed when I asked them if they liked to dance to different kinds of music. They giggled, just as you would imagine, when I asked if I could take their photo in front of the classroom. I saw a look from a teacher to a student that transcends any and all geographical boundaries: the one that says, “I have my eye on you. Stop misbehaving right now!” I had a family member tell me how much this classroom means to them. And as the day came to a close, all the giggling continued as some of the kids and families jumped into the back of a pickup truck, eager for a ride home, not unlike kids back home piling into one mom’s minivan in the carpool line.
Without the dedication of the Bon Café team, this project would not have been possible. On behalf of MZB-USA, thank you to our friends and colleagues of Bon Café for their collaboration that continues well beyond the timeline of a single endeavor.
While one classroom, one school, one project may not save the planet, it will change the world to which these children have access, and the power and meaning behind this need not be diminished. Just as the classroom needed a strong foundation to stand, we need the same, and an area in which one is able to develop that foundation is through education. It is our hope that that this classroom has and will continue to make a difference and contribute to the students’ and community’s foundations for many years to come.
At the end of the day, I can say that this experience is one that I will forever be grateful to have living rent-free in my head.
Cheers to the many coffee memories that the future is sure to bring!