Reflection on a Service Learning Trip to Guatemala

By Gina Piacentine

In just a few short weeks (yikes) I’m graduating from Saint Louis University, and I honestly wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for coffee. From late night cram sessions in the library to a nice afternoon of studying at my favorite coffee shop, its presence in these past four years has been undeniable. So, I could not pass up  the LCM spring break trip to learn more about the work that goes into each cup of coffee.

Kristen, Garrett, and I, along with Pastor Rebecca, headed to Guatemala to work with De La Gente, an NGO cooperative just outside of Antigua. De La Gente works with small-hold farmers through economic opportunities, such as micro-financing. This allows the farmers, their families, and the communities to live a higher quality of life. The trip allowed us to experience the joie de vivre that persists within the Guatemalan culture and also gave us an authentic glimpse of the true Guatemalan life. We ate many meals around a very simple dinner table in the homes of the coffee farmers. Throughout the week, we did a lot more than just eat, but it was over these family meals that I was able to learn more than I ever could have from a classroom lesson or a documentary.

Almost every day, these farmers told us the story of how they came to be a De La Gente farmer. Many of the stories began with their fathers taking them up in to fields to learn to be a coffee farmer from a young age. However, these fields were owned by land-owners, rich men who hire out farmers to work land they don’t own and cannot profit from. Froilan’s story was a testament of dedication to not only a better life for his family, but also an unending trust in God, and the plans God had for his family. Froilan was able to go from working someone else’s fields all morning and a second job all afternoon in Guatemala City (a far drive), to owning his own land, spending more time with his family, and enjoying the life God has provided for him.

It was incredible to see God’s presence on this trip, through both the beautiful landscape and the stories shared by these incredible farmers and their families. The faith present in the lives of these farmers was an incredible reminder that God’s plan for us is so vast and great, and it is so important that we trust in him.

How to make the perfect cup of coffee
Start by picking some perfectly ripe coffee fruit from a coffee plant. A single coffee plant will be able to produce 1 pound of processed coffee a year after 4 years. Coffee flourishes in volcanic soil, but it is quite the hike to arrive to the fields. After hiking down from the volcano, de-pulp the fruit to separate the fruit from the bean immediately. Then you’ll ferment the bean for 36 hours, rinse and dry the bean in good sun for 6 days. Damp beans will not roast well, so it’s important to monitor the beans! Next, remove the parchment on the beans. You’ll want to hand-sort the beans to remove all imperfections and defective beans. A single bad bean will ruin 56 good beans, so completing this step thoroughly is important!! Finally, the good part – roasting. Roast these beans evenly to perfection, being careful to not burn them. It’s time to grind, brew and enjoy that cup of coffee you’ve worked so hard to create!! Enjoy.