When Jorge Suarez arrived at the first Coffee Kids Rural Business Workshop in Summer 2016, he really was not sure what to expect. But he was excited to try something new. Jorge was 24 at the time and he had recently spent 2 years away from his family and out of his community, serving in the Colombian military. Once he had the opportunity to return home he was happy to be back in his hometown of La Celia, Colombia and truly did not want to have to leave again.

Jorge wanted to follow his family in coffee and he had many ideas about what that could look like, but he wasn’t sure where to start. Coffee Kids provided a path for him to develop his own identity as a young entrepreneur in coffee. Jorge took the lessons from the agronomist trainers in Coffee Kids and learned how to processes his coffee in a variety of ways. He also took the skills he learned in networking to find local people who could roast and package his coffee. And then he took his marketing skills to local fairs where he could sell his coffee, eventually opening his own coffee shop where he serves his own coffee and shares different ways to brew coffee with his community

I recently spent a week with Jorge, attending the SCA Avance Conference in Guatemala City and visiting youth businesses in the Trifinio region of Central America. During our travel, Jorge talked about how he used to be very timid, unwilling to speak his mind, and unsure what he could do with his life. But through the course of the workshops he developed self-confidence, found his voice, learned how to dream into the future.

 

And Jorge is passionate about coffee! Every morning, whether at the hotel or on the road traveling, Jorge found a way to prepare his coffee which he grew and roasted under his label, “The Alps.” During the SCA Conference, there were coffees from 10 regions of Guatemala, and Jorge tried each one, doing his own informal cupping and evaluation of the flavors in each. When we visited the youth committee of UNIOCAFE in Honduras, Jorge immediately jumped into asking questions to understand the work of these youth and also shared his knowledge and experience from Colombia. During a training we attended in El Salvador, Jorge took time to sit with each group and talk with them about their business ideas.

Jorge was selected for this trip after submitting a proposal for how he could use the skills he learned to increase opportunities for other youth in Colombia. The experience culminated with a visit to the headquarters of Peet’s Coffee in Emoryville, California. Through our partnership with Peet’s, Jorge was able to learn about cupping and quality, large-scale roasting, and barista skills in a US coffee shop. The staff at Peet’s describes Jorge as, “focused, passionate, and driven” and “eager and excited” to ask questions, engage with staff, and learn as much as possible.

Through the course of this one year journey, Jorge is now at a place where he realizes his own capability to be a mentor to other youth in his own community, that he can be a leader for his peers in Colombia.