We had a realisation on our yearly visit to Rwanda in 2016 that we had originally set up Horsham Coffee Roaster as a small business to support our family. Since we started in 2012 it has grown to support other families, something that we are immensely proud of. But visiting Rwanda and seeing just how important the coffee industry is to so many in the community was a real eye opener and made us re-evaluate how we ran the business.
Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world and is massively important to societies in developing countries. Most coffee farmers in Rwanda are smallhold farmers. There are bigger farms but most of the coffee we buy comes from cooperative washing stations, taking a sack or two of cherries weekly from many farmers and paying cash to them on delivery. This cash may be their only or main income for the whole year, the price per kilo is a huge deal and may affect whether they can afford to get healthcare cover for the whole of their family for a year. Rwanda is a fertile country with avocados going to waste as they drop off trees, the people can grow food for their families, but luxuries we take for granted, such as going to the cinema or even popping out for a coffee and cake every week (day?!) seem decedent in comparison. That is not to say there aren’t many many people there that can do this, every society has a range of rich and poor. But for the coffee growing community it would be luxurious to lead the life that we live as a result of the fantastic product they product. Yes, we are still a business aiming to make a profit, but our fundamental drive to get more customers has been influenced by the real desire to create more of a demand for this fantastic product that is produced by amazing people who have come out of a horrendously sad background, to work at something in order to support their families.
Last year in Rwanda we asked to visit a local school that we noticed on our trip in 2016, we realised that many of the children going to the school would be children of the small hold farmers, perhaps helping to harvest after school or transporting the cherries to the washing stations. Some of the children walked for 2 hours to go to school, education is of massive importance in such a young population.
Above: Children walking home from school
The genocide of 1994 wiped out a huge number of men and women of that generation. Many of the school children are children of those who witnessed the genocide and lost family and friends. Despite this there is a massive amount of optimism for the future. The Dormans country manager, Jean-Bosco, told us that he himself had attended a school just like that, and now lived a life he never imagined as a child (Dormans is the exporter we use in Rwanda and Kenya).
Shye school covers a fairly large area. A new building had been built in the 1990s for the senior section of the school.
Above: The secondary school building
However the junior school building, built during the 1930s, was dilapidated and dangerous in parts. The children are taught from age 6 in classes of around 60. As an ex teacher myself the sight of the busy classrooms brought me out in a cold sweat! It was comforting listening to the conversations of the teachers to realise the job is the same the world over (governments changing the curriculum but not providing money to update text books being one complaint). Having 2 children of primary age it was moving to witness children so keen to learn but held back by an environment that needed some work. We decided that we would make it our mission as business owners, who in relative terms are wealthy, to help were we could.
We began fundraising in small scales when we got back by holding events at our coffee shop (Bond St Coffee) and at the roastery by holding an open day. We also organised a cake sale at our son’s school and donated a portion of the profit made on sales of the bags of coffee sold from that region (Gishyita).
Above: Fundraiser at our sons school
We raised about a quarter of the amount needed and donated the rest ourselves. Work began in August 2017 to make the school safe by the time the children returned from their break. We are so proud to have done this and hope to revisit the school this year to see for ourselves the changes that have been made. Thanks to all who contributed to the project!
We are already working on a new project to fund the completion of proper toilet facilites at a school linked to Bwishaza co-operative. We will update when we have some more information! - Written by Amelia Steenkamp
Here are some before and after pictures of the school project: