The coffee-growing communities of Unión Buenavista and Tierra y Libertad in the Mexican state of Chiapas are located on unpaved, mountainous roads far from the nearest town. Generations of farmers have grown their products and made the arduous journey to town to sell their goods.
Hildardo Matias Velasquez, a coffee farmer, recalls the difficulty of such trips before an actual road existed. He says he would pack mules at 5 a.m. to take products to town and sell them, then arrive at 3 p.m., buy supplies such as sugar, salt and soap, repack the mules and make the return journey. The road has helped shorten the trip, but it’s still a rough, dangerous trek, he says.
The communities’ isolation also makes it difficult for teachers to reach the area or for students to get to schools, particularly when heavy rains make the road impassable. In response to this problem, Community Coffee Company, in partnership with Southwest Airlines and the ECOM Foundation, created a project to build two classrooms with satellite internet and access to online curriculum. The project provides grade-school education, as well as access to agricultural, technological and academic training for anyone interested. Additionally, residents — who traditionally have had little hope for a higher education — can now access a university education remotely.
Coffee farming is the livelihood for many of these residents, so training in agriculture and better coffee-growing practices is being offered to sustain future generations of coffee growers.
Mark Howell, general manager of the Green Coffee and Tea Department with Community Coffee Company, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the two schools. The kids were excited and curious about the visitors since they rarely get visitors in their area, he says.
“After theribbon cutting we stepped into the school and turned on the lights to look around. The school has windows along either side of the building, and there were over a hundred kids’ faces peering in trying to see inside the school,” he says. “They let a group of students in, and they all sat down and immediately wanted everyone to take pictures of them looking busy and professional.”
In an area where education usually stops after elementary school, and kids go on to live as farmers and laborers, the schools will make a huge difference to their futures, opening new doors for them, Howell says. Some of the students understand that, and some don’t yet, but their parents understand what the access to computers and higher education will mean for their children, he says.
“I think the turnout for these ceremonies spoke volumes,” Howell says. “A large percent of the community showed up each day to hear what was said and enjoy a picnic.”
Matias Velasquez says he’s optimistic that education for the area will continue to improve, and the community's children will be better prepared for the future. He also wants to continue learning despite his age — even if it’s just learning more about agriculture, it would be a good thing for everyone, he says.