While it may be a known fact that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, before I had travelled there in June with Grounds for Health I had many questions: would our partners be ready? What would the country be like? Would I even like the coffee? Arriving to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, meaning new flower, having taken three planes from Vermont meant I wasn’t any closer to answering my questions until I got a good night’s rest. It was going to be a busy trip.
As a relatively new Grounds for Health program manager, this was my third international trip in three months, and as a newbie to the coffee world it has been an educational journey thus far, to say the least.
The Grounds for Health Ethiopia program, which has been generously underwritten by Massachusetts coffee company Dean’s Beans, is our newest program and is already showing incredible promise. Part of initiating a new program is fact-finding, which can be particularly difficult when the location is thousands of miles away. This trip to Ethiopia served as a way for us to learn more about our partners and the program’s potential, as well as complete the hiring process for our in-country staff.
The bustling capital was the entry point for our team, which consisted of recently retired Executive Director August Burns, Senior Program Manager Kayla Moore and Dean Cycon from Dean’s Beans. We were warmly welcomed by Ethiopia’s Federal Ministry of Health, and it quickly became apparent that they were more than ready: the ministry immediately asked us to begin our programming as soon as possible! After a few days in Addis, we made our way south, journeying through dry landscapes populated with cows, goats, camels and the occasional chicken. Along the way, we stopped at Lake Langano, often described as the English tea lake (it has a black-tea-with-milk hue) and took in the beautiful scenery.
We finally arrived at Awassa, the capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR). Our first stop was the Awassa referral hospital, where we met with officials and health providers who had been trained in VIA and cryotherapy through the Pathfinder program. We found a similar situation when we visited the hospital in nearby Yirgalem, which was a great sign. Knowing about these hospitals is key to our programs so that we can refer women that may need additional treatment.
Ferro Cooperative, the base coffee cooperative we will be partnering with, is located in the lush and higher coffee-growing areas in SNNPR. We were able to make strategic plans with Ferro as well as meet local women members and discuss cervical cancer. Women in this area have never been screened—a common fact in many low-resource settings—and this fact continues to stick with me as we plan our program.
One thing is clear: coffee is intrinsically linked to the people of Ethiopia. They take the ritual of preparing, serving and drinking it very seriously. I had the honor of trying my hand at roasting and then grinding the beans during my first coffee ceremony. When it came time to tasting the deep, dark liquid, I was sure ready after the wait and the work that went into preparing it!
It was the most delicious coffee I have tasted. Jet black, smooth and fresh. Freshly roasted just tasted better to me. Besides the coffee itself, the other special part of the ceremony was the blessing received after drinking each cup. I only had time to receive the first round, where ‘awol’ was stated after I drank the first two ounces handed to me in a small glass cup. I didn’t get the chance to enjoy the remaining blessings of ‘tona’ (second round) and ‘baraka’ (third round), but I know that I will complete them on future trips.
I can’t wait to return.