Photography from Kellensoo on Display at 123 4th Avenue

We're hosting an opening reception at 123 4th Avenue this Thursday, April 14th from 6-8 pm.

We have a longstanding purchasing relationship and accompanying social project with the coffee producers of Kellensoo, Ethiopia. On our most recent trip to Addis Ababa and Kellensoo, we brought photographer Guy Greenberg to document the interaction between Think Coffee representatives, the Ethiopian exporters who work with us, and the villagers of Kellensoo. Beginning this week, twenty selected images that give a more intimate look at the relationship between Think and the coffee we purchase will be on display at our 4th Avenue location.

If you can't come by, you can still check out the images from the show here, more from the trip on Think's instagram, and lots more of Guy's selected photography here.

Think Coffee, Kellensoo, and Days for Girls International

Frehiwot of Nardos Coffee Exports translates Diana's instructions from English to Amharic.

Frehiwot of Nardos Coffee Exports translates Diana's instructions from English to Amharic.

I’d like to spend a moment highlighting one of the organizations that has helped Think realize community need-based projects in Kellensoo and explain exactly what we accomplished with them on our most recent trip to Ethiopia.

Days for Girls International is a non-profit organization supplying feminine hygiene products and sexual health education to girls around the world who would not otherwise receive it. We first came into contact with Days for Girls when we asked representatives of the village of Kellensoo if there were any community issues they thought Think might be able to help them address, and learned that there was a huge problem with female students dropping out of school after hitting puberty. Supplying as many of the feminine hygiene kits that Days for Girls chapters make as we could was a perfect start to solving that problem. After four years and over 700 hand delivered kits, we’ve expanded the relationship between Think Coffee, the village of Kellensoo, and Days for Girls. Our most recent trip to Ethiopia was the first time that any individuals from Days for Girls and Think had actually met and worked together in person.

In February, Lacy, Noah and I from Think, Libby and Diana from Days for Girls, and Frehiwot from Nardos Coffee Exports (the Ethiopian company who exports this coffee to us and matches the contributions we make to our projects in Kellensoo), visited Kellensoo High School to run a sexual health and hygiene class and to teach a small group of volunteer students how to produce feminine hygiene kits for distribution at the school.

The one week program walked through each component of the feminine hygiene kit and its use for a sewing group made up of both sexes. By the time sewing machines were introduced, everyone learning had made a full kit by hand and understood how it worked. I was completely impressed with the way that both the girls and boys responded with enthusiasm and curiosity to the task of production and in learning the sexual health information. Where I remembered pregnant pauses and eruptions of giggling in my own sex ed, there were thoughtful questions and gentle corrections about misinformation. I left them feeling entirely confident that they would be good community ambassadors of the information provided by Days for Girls, and felt sure that they had taken to heart the task of providing kits for their classmates.

By giving them the agency to source their own materials, access to workspace and sewing machines, and the knowledge to educate the other women in their lives about sexual health, these students will no longer be reliant on the kits that Think could only bring once or twice a year. Instead, they will have the basic business skills, organization and production knowledge to meet the needs of their peers as they arise, and, if they decide to, build an inventory that they can eventually market and sell to neighboring communities. This is both the first Days for Girls operation in any area of Ethiopia and a large step forward for one of Think’s longest-running relationships with a coffee producing community. I can’t wait to see how the early months of the sewing group turn out, and to continue growing our relationship with Days for Girls and the community of Kellensoo.

first trip to origin, first trip to kellensoo

It’s a big part of my job to stay familiar with the coffee we serve, the farmers that produce it, and the community programs we sponsor in those farming communities. Every day I speak to customers about the components of our blend and the fact that all of our farms are regularly visited by Noah and an assortment of other Think employees. I’m the one who sends out company-wide newsletters about changes to our blend and single source menu, and I put together statements and posters about the work we do at origin. But even with that regular interaction with Think’s relationship to green coffee, it can be tough to make the emotional connection between the place our coffee comes from and what we serve.

When we arrived in Hagere Mariam, a 14-hour car trip south from Addis Ababa in the back of a seat-beltless 12-seat Toyota with representatives from Think, Days for Girls, and Nardos Coffee, I was hit with a real understanding of what Think’s relationship with communities at origin is really like. It was this wild, anxious, buzzing acknowledgement that I was here to see a place and people and the origin of a product that I mention casually every day at work. I wasn’t sure how it would go or what exactly I’d learn, but at the bare minimum I had taken a two day trip to spend a week and a half attempting to better understand something that I interact with all of the time. Coming here with the encouragement and accompaniment of my employer was a huge deal to me all on its own.

Kellensoo, another twenty minutes driving from Hagere Mariam, is the place where my friend Ben first ended up having a meeting with village elders three and a half years ago to talk about purchasing coffee and identifying community needs that Think might be able to address in our contract. It’s the place where my friend Emily spent a month making friends and assisting in the construction of the Eleshu elementary school library. It’s also the place that my favorite coffee comes from. I spent my time there getting to know the students and teachers who are actually benefiting from our community projects. I learned how to sew the Days for Girls kits along with the the sewing group, played a lot of soccer with the high school students, led a computer basics workshop with a group of elementary school teachers and their librarian, and started up a pen pal correspondence with an enthusiastic teacher who is working on his English skills. Ultimately, I made friends, saw coffee production firsthand for the first time, developed a better understanding of where we are with our project, and helped articulate the direction that we would like it to go moving forward. That was enough to change the way that I think about what we serve in New York, and I don’t think that I’ll ever get into a conversation about coffee at work again without directly linking it to this experience in my mind.

The way that Think visits the communities that we have relationships with is unique. We’re there to do good, but we’re not an NGO. Our projects are based on long running business relationships and the work we do is directly related to the amount of coffee that we purchase. We are there to purchase coffee, but we’re not around just to cup a group of coffees, pick the ones we want to buy, and get out. It’s a sustained relationship based on goodwill and the balance of our mutual interests.

We’ll give more updates in the coming weeks about the work that Think, Days for Girls and Nardos did during that trip, but to start, I’m happy to take this moment to acknowledge the special nature of our relationship with this community and how honored I am to be a personal part of it.