“Linking Coffee and Community” has long been a guiding phrase here at Portland Roasting Coffee. We firmly believe that in order for our coffee to be the best it can be, we have a responsibility to the communities that grow the coffee. When those communities have needs and we have resources, we want to use those resources to help the communities and the people in them. It’s not always easy for a coffee roasting company to identify the needs of individual communities, so we look for global partners to identify needs and execute projects with our help. One of our newer partners is an organization called Global Brigades, a non-profit that works with communities throughout the world but with a strong focus on Honduras. Last April, Portland Roasting and several key sponsors hosted a party at our Portland headquarters to raise money for a water project in Honduras through Global Brigades. With the help of the local coffee community, we were able to raise enough money to fund a complete project in a small village called Buena Vista in Honduras. Recently, I was lucky enough to travel to Honduras with representatives of some of Coffeelandia’s major sponsors to view the progress of this project and meet the people who live there. Words can’t really touch how amazing the experience was, but until I develop better mind-melding abilities I’m going to give it a shot with words.
We flew out of Portland late on a Tuesday night and didn’t arrive at our destination until the next day around noon. We stumbled off the plane, bleary eyed and loopy, to find ourselves in the city of Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. Thankfully we weren’t just left to our own devices as Global Brigades (GB) had sent a few folks out to meet us and make sure we didn’t get too lost. Our guides, Rachel Rimmerman and Radhika Patel, both started as volunteers for GB and wound up working full time for the organization after finishing college. They were an invaluable resource for us on the trip and kept us out of all kinds of trouble! After a quick tour of the GB facilities we piled into a Land Cruiser for the long journey to the compound where we’d be staying.
We stayed at the facility GB uses to house volunteer students while they are in country. It was a well appointed and very comfortable hacienda with many beds and a kitchen to keep us well fed. The lodgings did not disappoint. We were all quite tired and turned in for an early night, ready for a big day to follow.
Early the next morning we downed a few cups of coffee and hit the road. The drive to Buena Vista took about an hour from the compound, but the rugged roads made it seem quite a bit longer. Amazing views surrounded us as we headed up into the mountains, making any discomfort from the bumpy ride well worth it. We headed up and up, passing mountain homes and many people travelling one way or the other on the road. Our first stop was to visit the water source for Buena Vista. It was a bit of a hike from the road but nothing too bad and certainly a nice change of pace from sitting in the car all day. The flora was beautiful, trees upon trees as far as the eye could see. And on this hike I finally came across my first coffee tree (shrub). I recognized the unripe cherries immediately. It was quite stirring to finally be face to face with this bean (they call it a ‘grain’ in Honduras) that has fed, clothed and sheltered me for so long. We found a few semi-ripe cherries and I was finally able to eat a coffee cherry right off the tree! It wasn’t nearly as sweet as I expected, rather somewhat tart and stringy. But what a joy it was to peel back the skin and bite into the mucilage, exposing the sacred bean underneath. Incredible!
After my time with the bean we came to the water source for Buena Vista, a small spring in the mountains surrounded by coffee farms. As we examined the current setup Don Santos, the president of the Buena Vista Water Council, talked about his experiences there and about building the original water project that we’re updating. This talk was followed by a stop at his friends’ coffee nursery and a short but very detailed lesson on their planting and growing processes. It was very illuminating and entertaining to watch Don Santos lecture in Spanish and then hear it all again in English through Rachel, our guide and translator.
We then proceeded to the village of Buena Vista itself to see the rest of the project. We spent some time with the work crew rebuilding the town’s large storage tank and learned about all of the different components being installed. Because they are about to get electricity, Global Brigades is installing an electric pump to take water from the large storage tank up the hill to a new large tank that will then provide a gravity feed system to the individual houses. I even got to crawl inside the storage tank for an up close view! The work was progressing quickly with a large team and the improvements to the large tank were nearly complete.
Our time at the old large tank was followed by a short but quite strenuous hike up to the location of the new tank, high above the town. There we encountered another work group, a team of locals digging trench for the pipe to the upper tank. We learned that all members of the community earn their water connections through contributing labor to the overall project. The high storage tank gave us an incredible view of the surrounding area and we were able to see where all the homes were located, even the highest house in the village. The highest house won’t technically have water coming all the way to it because it’s located too high for the gravity feed to work. They’ll still get a water connection close to their house though so they still contribute work.
We headed back down the hill with Don Santos and were very generously treated to coffee at his place. Sitting on his patio, talking about his new dog Spike and drinking fresh coffee that he had grown, processed and roasted in his backyard was an incredible experience. The coffee was darkly roasted but of the perfect strength and so fresh that it was hard to believe. Don Santos gifted us with a bag of coffee each to take home. He exemplified the kind and generous nature of all of the Honduran people we met.
After coffee we had lunch just outside the local elementary school. The kids all gathered around and stared shyly at the ‘gringoes’, but we were able to talk with them and get them excited about having some video and still pictures taken of them. The afternoon continued with exploring more of the village, seeing the warehouse (bodega) where all the water supplies were kept. We met more of the community members and interviewed several folks about their current water situation and how they think it might change with the installation of the new facilities. While most of their answers were similar, the faces of these people captured the joy and anticipation of the whole community.
This love-fest continued as we attended a meeting of the local water council; nine men and women elected from the community to monitor and administrate the work, upkeep and community involvement in the project. It was overwhelming to say the least. These people had grown up in Buena Vista and spent their entire lives there. They knew exactly how much the community needed this and what kinds of things will change from them. They were incredibly gracious and thankful for our involvement and our visit, and took the opportunity to make somewhat long winded and grandiose speeches about it. Just for the sake of fitting in, I made a somewhat grandiose speech myself. In English, of course. My limited Spanish served me well in Honduras but was still far short of conversational. Unless the entire conversation was:
“Hi! How are you?”
“I’m good, you?”
“Great, thanks! See ya!”
I’ve got that conversation down pat!
After the meeting, we travelled by road back to Rapaco, the compound where we stayed at night. We closed out one hell of a day with some relaxation over a few beers. We had no idea what was to come but were all ready for the adventure to continue.