Fourteen KSC students are much more sensitive to the coffee they drink, after their International Service Trip (IST) to Guatemala in January. “More sensitive” in that, after spending nine days working on a Fair Trade coffee farm, they’re much more aware of the labor and economics that go into that cup of Joe. As the group wrote in their last blog post at the end of the trip, “And to the farmers and artisans: your kindness, patience, and passion will not be forgotten. We will share your stories, emulate your work ethic, and remember you fondly. We will be better consumers and better people for having met you.”
The group travelled to a small village in Guatemala called San Miguel Escobar, situated at the base of Volcan de Agua, just outside Antigua. They worked with coffee farmers and artisans through an NGO called As Green as It Gets, which focuses on economic development and environmentally sustainable agriculture in Guatemala. The organization eliminates most of the middle men to ensure that the growers earn a significantly higher profit from their crop than if they sold to a local distributor. The students picked hundreds of pounds of coffee cherries, sorted and dried beans, dug a new bio-digester and a tilapia pond by hand, and helped to make textiles and cosmetics from local materials.
“In addition to hundreds of hours of volunteer service, students learned about local agriculture, sustainable farming, and the economics of coffee.” explained KSC’s Coordinator of Community Services, Jessica Gagne Cloutier. “They were immersed in the culture of Guatemala, eating nearly every lunch and dinner in the homes of the farmers they worked with. Students learned to make corn tortillas, roasted and ground coffee to drink, and engaged in endless conversation.”
“We worked with the farmers at As Green as It Gets and helped them pick and process the coffee, which is a lot of work,” said student trip leader Alyssa Tremblay. “Until then, I never knew that you had to pick the berry and get the seed out of it. Then you have to let the beans sit for eight days; then you have to wash them. Then you have to lay them out and let them sit for eight more days. It’s a really long process that a lot of people who drink coffee don’t know anything about.”
The students returned home profoundly affected, and more mature and wiser. “We have come to realize that these people truly have life figured out,” wrote student bloggers Kateland Dittig and Hannah Gagnon. “Happiness isn’t about having the newest iPhone or pair of UGG boots, instead it is about simply being—being one with nature and taking the time to appreciate the small things in life.”
And they returned ready to affect change in their own community. “We talk a lot here about citizenship and personal responsibility and social consciousness,” Gagne Cloutier said, “so after the students had been to Guatemala and worked in the coffee process, they started asking if the coffee on our campus is Fair Trade. What about Brewbakers? What about Prime Roast? Can we go there and ask them to carry Fair Trade coffee? Now, when we have a cup of coffee, we’re going to think about the friends and farmers we met, and the biodigetster and artisans’ creations.”