Yasmeen Nemat Allah, second from right, worked on a Peruvian coffee plantation that harvests and manufactures the same coffee beans served at St. Jerome’s University’s cafeteria. Photo courtesy of Glen Lombard

St. Jerome’s students learn the value of a coffee bean

By  Erin Jamieson, Youth Speak News
  • June 19, 2015

WATERLOO, ONT. - Students at St. Jerome’s University don’t have to wonder where their coffee is made.

Every May, a group of students in residence at St. Jerome’s travels to Peru on a 17-day ‘SJU in Peru’ service-learning trip. They engage with the production process of coffee to gain an understanding of how their consumer habits have an impact on the global community.

Yasmeen Nemat Allah, a second-year fine arts and business student and SJU resident, just returned from this trip.

“From picking coffee, to climbing mountains, to learning what it takes to make a difference in this world,” she said. “I am forever impacted by how incredible and moving it was to be part of that journey.”

In villages such as Penachi and Agua Azul, the students have the opportunity to work with the communities, foster relationships and give students the resources to become change makers in their own communities. It helps students to understand how their actions, even small ones, can contribute to larger change.

“This generation of young adults wants to change the world (but) many people don’t know how to have an impact,” said Glen Lombard, director of the Office of Student Experience at SJU, a Catholic liberals arts college federated with the University of Waterloo. “This experience is an avenue to engagement (and) understanding change coming from a grassroots level.”

The service-learning trip program began in 2009 as a way to connect the SJU residents with a mission driven around social justice. Lombard said the trip was designed to be mutually beneficial to the students and the community in Peru.

The trip takes students to a coffee plantation where students learn about PROASSA’s work with farmers in the area, helping farmers obtain fair-trade certification and build sustainable practices. PROASSA, or Promotora de la Agricultura Sustentable S.A., is a fair-trade organic coffee exporter. Its product, the Café Femenino, is the coffee brand SJU serves on campus.

Students interact in both the farming of the beans and the community as they travel to various villages to learn about the struggles the communities face.

The SJU in Peru trip inspired one participant to return for an extended trip. Luis Juarez, now a fourth-year planning student, was on the trip in 2012. and remembers feeling inspired by the “power of community” he experienced in Peru.

Two years later, he returned as part of SJU’s larger service-learning trip Beyond Borders. Beyond Borders is SJU’s academic-based service-learning trip and includes a 90-day placement abroad. Originally, there were no placements in Peru, but after Juarez expressed interest in returning to work in the community, a placement was created.

“We gain so much through exposure and I truly believe that experiencing the realities of the greater world through travel allows you to understand both the challenges and opportunities that exist in this world in a way that the classroom simply can’t teach,” said Juarez.

Through Beyond Borders, Juarez worked in a small production village, Tallapampa, to create a development plan. Designs are now being drafted for a new community centre to be built in the coming years.

This year’s participants were able to see construction begin. This summer, Matthew Tonello, a civil engineering student travelling with Beyond Borders, will return to create a structurally safe building design. Lombard said this continuing project is an example of the growing engagement between their students and these communities.

Taking an experience close to home, drinking coffee and turning it into a global experience will continue to keep students at SJU engaged in and educated about their global community.

(Jamieson, 19, is a second-year Knowledge Integration student at the University of Waterloo.)

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