Never having set foot in a developing country before, I had quite a few preconceived notions. One of the biggest was that people in Latin America have hard lives and therefore are not happy.
I was very wrong.
Recently, I traveled with a few of my Lutheran World Relief colleagues to Nicaragua, where we visited with farmers participating in a coffee project funded by Farmer Brothers, an American coffee roaster, wholesaler and distributor of coffee, tea and culinary products. It was on that trip, in the town of Jinotega that we met Maryeli, a young woman who works as an “outreach promoter” for the local coffee cooperative with which LWR is partnering.
We were among a group of 60 outreach promoters, including Maryeli, ranging in age from 18-31. These young people take weekly classes to learn best practices in sustainable agriculture—specifically coffee farming. Many of these promoters come from farming families, but some do not.
Each outreach promoter is responsible for visiting their assigned farms—anywhere from 20-40 each—once every two weeks. On their visits, they share their knowledge of cutting-edge farming techniques and provide the coffee farmers with information on disease-resistant coffee varietals, weather cycles and wastewater management. The outreach promoters travel from farm to farm on motorcycle or by foot.
As each young person in the group introduced themselves, they stood up, greeted us and told us their names and ages, and bade us welcome. It was clear that part of their training had included public speaking.
Maryeli stood out. At 22 years old, her voice was among the strongest, her eye contact was most direct, and her smile was radiant. It was apparent to me that Maryeli loves life.
Two days later our group drove three hours to meet with Maryeli's parents, who own a farm outside of Jinotega. The location is remote, and we had to park at the bottom of a hill and walk the remaining 400 meters or so uphill since the vehicles would never make it. Maryeli greeted us at the bottom of the hill with an even bigger smile than before, along with a firm handshake for each of us and kiss on the cheek. She practically skipped uphill to her family’s farm.
Maryeli has a motorcycle. She typically works at her family farm when she is able, visits her assigned farms regularly, and—oh, by the way—travels the 2- to 3-hour trip to Jinotega to attend college, majoring in agriculture.
Her family’s home has few rooms; there is no glass in the windows and no doors leading to the dirt floor interior. Her family has an open-air kitchen, where they cook over a wood burning stove. And yet, thanks to the partnership of LWR and Farmer Brothers, they are seeing the benefits of the program. They are adding a room onto their home and Maryeli looks forward to completing her education. Wherever she goes, and whatever she does in life, I think her megawatt smile will be right there as well.
Her life is hard, but it's also very, very full.
Photo Story: "Coffee's Next Generation in Nicaragua"
Click on the photo below to meet other outreach promoters like Maryeli and the coffee farmers with whom they're working: