Barista Magazine

AUG-SEP 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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the countryside emptied of people, and then after the violence, when they started returning from their self-imposed exiles, they brought with them another calamity: HIV. The Rwandan population is still recovering from those years of devastation. One of the most striking aspects of the country is how many women there are, women produc- ers in particular; this is because so many men were killed in those catastrophic events. It is a testament to the resiliency of the Rwandan people that they memorialize the losses and continue to be heedful of the atrocities without letting them overwhelm their modern-day lives and society in calls of vengeance and retribution. Smayah, like so many of her fellow Rwandans, refers to this history as a catalyst to create a more equitable and peaceful society for the future. Part of that future, Smayah believes, can be achieved through a profi table and growing coffee sector. She believes her experience at Question Coffee can be a pathway upon which others can choose to follow. And the trail she is blazing for Rwandan women continues to lengthen both inside and outside of her country. Smayah was one of the original fi ve recipients of the Specialty Cof- fee Association's Leadership Equity and Diversity (LEAD) Scholar- ship Program in 2018, which allowed her to attend the Re:co Sympo- sium in Seattle. Her eyes light up when she recalls the experience. "I heard about the Re:co Symposium and threw in my application, and I was [selected as] one of 30 fellows [to attend]. To be honest, I was not really understanding what was going on [with the content]." But she says she's determined to continue learning and attending as many similar events as she can because, "With all of these global events I've been through, I noticed that Africa really has not had representation." Smayah looks forward to returning to the United States in August to lead discussions about her work with the Rwandan women's cooper- atives and Question Coffee, in Portland, Ore; San Francisco; and Los Angeles (stay tuned to Barista Mag Online for details). On a visit to the Twongere Umusaruro Wa Kawa (TUK) co-op in the east of the country following the Let's Talk Coffee conference in Kigali in June (see page 38 for our coverage of the event), Smayah excitedly introduced her guests—representatives from Colectivo Coffee in Milwaukee—to the producers. Colectivo features coffee from the TUK co-op in a blend called "Sisters," which uses coffee grown by women in Latin America, Indonesia, and Rwanda. Smayah served as a translator (she speaks four languages: Kinyarwanda, Swahili, French, and English, and she's teaching herself Spanish because, she says, it's essential for getting a better understanding of coffee). The women of TUK have 100 coffee trees each on their individual plots that they tend to in addition to working together on a communal 10 hectares of coffee trees. The 160 co-op members (157 of whom are women) greeted the visitors with a beautiful song and dance and tremendous hospitality and grace. "Greetings to the women of Latin America and Indonesia," Smayah translated the song lyrics. "Please tell them we love them a lot." Smayah added simply, "These women are my heroes." Smayah says she feels blessed and fortunate for what her career in coffee has already afforded her, but she believes that with those op- portunities comes a responsibility to use her spotlight to refl ect back on the people who have lifted her up: the coffee growers of Rwanda. As Smayah says, "It's not about being a miracle, but about how much you've been given, and what you do with it." When visitors come to the co-ops, members greet them with traditional songs and dances. It was while visiting a local co-op, Smayah says, that she really began to understand the importance of the work Question Coff ee was doing. The farmers "needed someone who felt the same passion for it. And I couldn't see my eyes elsewhere." 74 barista magazine

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