We've helped build a library and we've helped provide feminine hygiene products to a small village located in the middle of a bunch of hills that contain coffee. The people who live in those hills bring their coffee, a basket or a truck-load, to Kellensoo. We met them at work and at school. We have a relationship with those people and it's messy and happy and strained and real. We have a relationship with the schools that is productive and frustrating and real. We have a relationship with the environment and it's complicated and sustainable and confusing and real.
Our work is based upon relationships, not a message. Our relationships are with people, not media. Think of your friends. How did you choose them? You probably didn't. You probably met all of them in a variety of ways and the friendship grew. You can probably look at your closest friends and find things to say that would fit them all in a general way, but you didn't choose them for those qualities. Your friendships grew naturally. You didn't make friends to market yourself. Your friends are real.
Think Coffee has real relationships with people who grow our coffee. In Kellensoo, we met Aklilu and Dawit Daniel a few years ago. Aklilu is a producer, which in Ethiopia means he buys coffee from small farmers and processes it and
offers it for sale on the international market. Dawit is Aklilu's exportation manager. He knows what coffee is where, it's quality and price, how much of it there is, and where it came from.
A few years ago, we didn't think we were going to be able to have a real relationship in Kellensoo. The coffee came from too many places. It seemed impossible to track from whom the coffee came or how much they were paid. There were young children working to sort our coffee. The coffee was expensive.
We stayed and we learned and we worked with Aklilu, Dawit, the village elders, the schools, and the government. We made a deal with the community. We would work together to make our relationship work.
Our plan was big. Together with Aklilu, the Kellensoo elders, and our importing company we would:
Build a library that had a real floor and roof, electricity, applicable books, tables, chairs, shelves, and computers.
Help reduce student dropout rates by basic class materials and feminine hygiene products.
Ensure no student dropout was allowed to work by requiring the school to inform Aklilu that the students were attending.
Accomplishing these tasks was frustrating, expensive, and painful. Every step of the construction involved nepotism, overpricing, argument, and jealousy. Books had to be shipped from the capitol. There is no standard Ethiopian school booklist.
Our first attempts and providing feminine products were culturally unacceptable. The products that were fi- nally agreed upon are now finally in the basement of our 8th Ave store while we try to figure out how to get them to Kellensoo without losing them to theft, re-direction, over-taxation, or misplacement. We have accomplished amazing things with the community. They have a functioning school library. The community trusts us. The rest of our project is progressing. We as co-workers have fought and bonded and really found love for each other and our company on a personal level that defies the modern corporate and specialty coffee worlds.
Our work and our relationships in Kellensoo and with each other are so close and personal that we get to experience the real frustration of real people relating to each other as a family.