Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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passed the objective, reporting engagement with 38,000 producers. It's not just Bloomberg Philanthropies, however, that has taken in the success of the SG program. The Rwandan government has noticed, too. SG's executive director, Ruth Coleman, describes a model moving forward where Sustainable Growers can help the govern- ment manage the country's coffee-growing sector more effi ciently by accessing data gathered by the Sustainable Growers teams in the fi eld. Further, Sustainable Growers can work with the government to provide services and support to coffee farmers throughout the country beyond the co-ops with whom they currently work. While Sustainable Growers is a nonprofi t, it also needs to demon- strate to Bloomberg Philanthropies that the efforts it's making in Rwanda can continue without requiring a constant infusion of capital. That is to say, it needs to also make money. So in Kigali, SG has a for-profi t subsidiary: Question Coffee. Question Coffee fulfi lls a number of roles in Rwanda. For one, it's a full-service café and roastery. Customers visit daily to enjoy expertly prepared specialty coffee from well-trained baristas such as Smayah. Question Coffee also supplies coffee to a number of local hotels, restaurants, and other coffee shops throughout the country, and is the offi cial coffee of the national airline RwandAir. Beyond that, Question Coffee staffers lead tour groups on visits to the co-ops to see the coffee-production process fi rsthand. What's more, Question also offers barista and certifi cation training at a Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)–sanctioned facility in Kigali, which draws attendees from all over the country and potentially the world. Adam McLean is the social enterprise director for Sustainable Growers as well as the manager of Question Coffee. "Question Coffee offers farmers and co-ops a chance to see their end product and see how it is served to the customer," he says. He's excited about the SCA-certifi ed training center because it offers something to attendees that few other certifi ed labs can: Coffee professionals can study and work toward their certifi cations during the week, and then visit wash- ing stations and farms on the weekends. "The coffees here are beyond beautiful," he says, "and everywhere we go, we bring coffee with us, sharing our passion with the community." Recently, for example, Ques- tion baristas were serving coffee at Akagera National Park as part of the training for the park's staff. Question Coffee was Smayah's entry into specialty coffee. "I heard about Sustainable Growers and Question Coffee [because] they were offering free training for fi ve people." She says she didn't drink coffee at that time, but, "I was attracted to latte art. At the end of the day, I need- ed money for college. I never knew that coffee was something else." The very fact that Smayah, now 21, was attending college was a pretty big deal. Many women in Rwanda don't continue their education after high school, she explains. Smayah says her family couldn't pay for it (she's one of 15 children in her family, all of whom have been raised by her mother and aunts since her father died in 2005). She adds that it didn't feel like society at large felt that education was very import- ant for women. Smayah says that after fi nishing high school, "getting married [is considered] the best option for girls. [But I was] 16 years old when I fi nished high school, and I didn't see myself carrying babies." She applied for a position at Question Coffee to earn money for her education, and she's now working toward her law degree. She goes to school full-time at night, while also working full-time at Question. If she's ever run-down though, Smayah doesn't show it. In fact, it would appear she is indefatigable in her drive to help others fi nd the same kinds of opportunities, and achieve the same kind of success, she has enjoyed since her start at Question Coffee. Smayah says she loves working at Question because "it allows Rwandans to get introduced to coffee and the amazing world behind it." Rwanda is traditionally a tea-drinking society, and the fi rst step toward building a coffee-drinking culture is to get people to try it. Question, however, adds an especially compelling story and message which helps convince Rwandans to give it a chance. "The proceeds at Question Coffee stay in the country and promote and support the peo- ple who grow it," Smayah explains. "We help customers try different coffees, take master classes, and also farm tours take them through the entire process." Working bar at Question Coffee is a rewarding experience for the employees as "they always feel happy when some new people come through," she says. "And they feel valued [for their skills], and the customers learn a lot about coffee. They learn the value of paying $3 a cup." It's Smayah's opinion that too often when people talk of coffee, they're not considering the whole picture. "We all have to think about the people behind it, the farmers," she says, noting how unfair it is "when the coffee-price crisis happens and it only affects the coffee producers. If it continues they are going to quit. If they don't get a fair pay through coffee, they are going to quit. They are patient," she says, but they have to see an impact on their bottom line. Otherwise, Smayah fears, "in the future we're going to have a lot of people drink- ing coffee but not a lot of people growing coffee." "My hope is that the program [at Question Coffee] will help make that change. We are in hotels and restaurants, so we can have high-quality coffee here in Rwanda. We don't only need Question Coffee—we need more and more. We need farmers to be motivated to stay in the industry, and we need also to allow youths to have a lot more opportunity." To Smayah, opportunity means more than fi nancial rewards. "A lot of youths are motivated by money, but there is more to it. I took my job as not only a way to go to school but also to make an impact. That's why I use my social media platform [she's @wise_smayah on Insta- gram, btw] to inspire people around me and to give back to society. I believe that when farmers are motivated and getting fair and living wages, things are going to be great." Smayah might have started as a barista at Question Coffee, but she quickly added more titles to her résumé. She's been a café manager and now also oversees quality control, as well as roasting. In addition to teaching classes for baristas and consumers alike, she leads tour groups to co-ops. She says introducing newcomers to the women at the co-ops might be her favorite part of her job. She says, "It wasn't until I started going to the farm" that she really understood what went into the coffee she served every day. "We worked closely with the women farmers [and visiting them was illuminating], with everything I was seeing with my eyes [like] preg- nant women carrying bags of cherry miles and miles. They needed someone who felt the same passion for it. And I couldn't see my eyes elsewhere." Once she was face-to-face with the women who grow the coffee Smayah roasts and serves, she knew she had to be their advocate. "Starting with the people behind it, the farmer, going there to the co-ops, seeing women farmers spending hours and hours away from their family—seeing how coffee puts the world together and people together—I learned the treasure of giving back to my society and giving back to the farmers," she says. Rwanda has gone through tremendous turmoil, tragedy, change, and rebuilding over the last three decades. The year 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide wherein it's estimated up to 1 million people were killed as neighbors attacked and murdered neigh- bors. Many people, including Smayah's family, fl ed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and neighboring countries. Whole swaths of 72 barista magazine

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