Empowering Kids and Drinking Coffee: Building Equator’s Second Classroom in Nicaraguan “Coffee Land”

In 2016, Equator decided to put our annual contributions to SchoolBOX towards building our second classroom in a coffee region of Nicaragua. We had the privilege of inaugurating our first classroom in 2013 at the San Antonio School near Jalapa, Nicaragua. It was there we saw first-hand the power that a safe and secure new classroom could have to transform lives in communities where coffee farmers work and live. When we learned that another remote community, called San Juan del Rio Coco, had an existing school that was desperately in need of a new classroom, we jumped at the opportunity to build it. The school is called Gracias a Dios, or ‘Thank you God’ School.

A Huge Need and a Little Bit of Serendipity

The families in this mountainous community in the heart of Nicaraguan ‘coffee land’ rely primarily on the coffee harvest for their source of income. The remoteness of the community necessitates that they have their own school locally, as the nearest town is about an hour away via one long, winding, unpaved, pothole-ridden road. Unfortunately, one of the classrooms at their existing school was overcrowded, poorly lit, crumbling and structurally unsafe. It was the perfect location for our second Equator classroom. Shortly after we heard about the need at Gracias a Dios School, one of the members of our fair trade coffee cooperative visited our café and roastery in Almonte. We began talking about our work in Nicaragua and soon learned that her fair trade coffee farm was located in the very same community where we were about to build our classroom! Talk about serendipity.

The Volunteer Experience

In November 2016, Equator led a team of 10 volunteers to Nicaragua to build the new classroom at Gracias a Dios School. Lucky for us, late November is coffee harvest season in Nicaragua and we got to witness it in full swing! It seemed like just about everyone in San Juan del Rio Coco was involved in some part of the coffee production process. From picking the cherries, to processing them and drying them out in the sun, to packaging and transporting the ‘green beans’ – coffee was a way of life for everyone we met.

On our first day at Gracias a Dios School, we were treated to an amazing welcome fiesta. Eager students performed songs and dances, and the school’s principal as well as a representative from the Ministry of Education made speeches about the importance of education for a brighter future. Everyone on our team was humbled by the warm welcome and excited to get to work!

As coffee cherries ripened all around us, our team mixed concrete, painted metal beams, tied rebar wires, and shoveled sand and gravel each day alongside kids, parents and teachers. Their hard work and enthusiasm was contagious, and it was a thrill to see our daily progress as the foundation was laid and the walls went up.

But it was not only hard work – the SchoolBOX volunteer experience is not complete without its fair share of play! Through endless games of soccer, jump-rope, jacks, pick up sticks, arts and crafts, and even a DIY manicure station, we were able to connect with the kids and encourage them to continue their education. It was amazing how language barriers broke down when fun and games were involved. These sweet encounters and personal friendships were what made the volunteer experience so powerful.

Coffee: From Cherries to Beans to Brew

During our ‘down time’ from the build, our team visited the fair trade and organic coffee farm of UCA San Juan del Rio Coco. We were able to see and taste the coffee made right there in the region, prepared specially for us by Nicaragua’s reigning latte-art champion! After his demonstration, we tried our hand at coffee picking, getting a glimpse into the work that so many people in this community count on for their livelihood. Next we visited the processing facility where the coffee cherries were husked, rinsed and filtered in order to get them ready for the drying process. This process opened our eyes to the work that goes into each and every cup of coffee that we drink. We are proud to support fair trade coffee farmers at Equator Coffee and to empower their communities through our work with SchoolBOX.

How Can You Get Involved?

Each pound of Equator Coffee contributes 10 cents towards purchasing school supplies and building classrooms for children in Nicaragua. In addition, we also run a fundraising program called ‘Beans 4 Dreams’ in which $5 of every bag provides school supplies to one child for an entire year. Look for the ‘Beans 4 Dreams’ label or shop online. At Equator, we also love giving the opportunity to our loyal customers to experience our work in Nicaragua first hand. Speak to our staff at Equator if you are interested in joining a volunteer team to Nicaragua in the future.

Testimonials From Our Team

“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is when we get to meet the people behind our coffee. The Nicaraguan families and farmers are wonderful. Being there and working alongside them for something they are so passionate about – the education of their children and the hope of giving them a better life – is simply a gift. SchoolBOX is such an incredible organization. The team of Nicaraguan and Canadian staff make the entire experience one you want to do over and over again!”

Amber Hall

“It was inspiring helping the kids that needed it by building the school. Playing with them was a lot of fun!

Micah Hall, 10 years old

“It was an honour to be part of the Equator classroom build with SchoolBOX! I had the chance to see two amazing organizations working hand-in-hand to empower kids. Aside from having the best coffee around, I always admire the fact that Equator lives out its community values in practical ways. Seeing Amber Hall and her family literally building the school that they helped to fund really underlined their commitment to leaving the world a better place than they found it.”

- Stephanie Rudyk Toepfer

“Of all the bonds that were forged on the trip, some of the deepest were with the SchoolBOX team themselves. Their professionalism, their friendship and kindness, was above and beyond. We were made to feel safe and secure at all times and they kept us laughing.”

Amy Graat