Rural Honduras is a long way to go for a good cup of coffee.
But for a team of Lafayette students representing the College’s Economic Empowerment and Global Learning Project (EEGLP), it’s worth the effort.
Over the winter break, the EEGLP team visited Lagunitas and other communities in Honduras where they have been assisting residents with numerous projects, including establishing a coffee plantation.
Three years after planting, the coffee plants have produced their first harvest. The Lafayette team was able to taste the coffee that the villagers harvested, roasted, and ground themselves.
“We were so proud of the villagers, and they were extremely proud to present us with the bags of coffee,” says Anu Ghai, lecturer in economics, who currently advises the group and accompanied it on the recent trip.
EEGLP takes a multidisciplinary approach toward its community redevelopment initiatives. Teams of students and faculty from every academic division work hand in hand with residents to tackle real-world economic issues locally, nationally, and internationally. Students also gain academic and professional skills.
“I envision myself working in an NGO after graduation, so working with this project gives valuable experiences that I believe will come in handy in the near future,” says Yen Joe Tan ’14 (Penang, Malaysia), an anthropology and sociology major. “But the main purpose of joining this team is so I can use my knowledge and skills to help create change in someone else’s life.”
EEGLP and the Lafayette chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) have been working with the residents of Lagunitas since 2007. In addition to collaborating with the village residents on the coffee plantation, projects there have included helping establish a community and civic engagement center and building a chicken farm coop.
Over the past year, EEGLP has been working on completing the community center at the village and ensuring that the villagers have sufficient support to bring the coffee plantation to maturity.
In El Convento, EWB has been working with the residents to construct a water system, and EEGLP has facilitated growing cocoa as a cash crop to help pay for its maintenance.
With the assistance of EEGLP, El Convento has established a business relationship with a chocolate company, Xoco. In the coming weeks, the students will be helping to install an irrigation system to the fields. During this trip, the EEGLP students met with the Xoco representative and toured a cocoa nursery.
In the third community, Las Abridillas, EEGLP is in the early stages of working with a group to find financing to rehabilitate a large underused deforested area and possibly collaborate on other projects. While in Honduras, students presented their research on possible sources of financing and arranged a meeting with the U.N. Development Project representative in Honduras.
“It’s a very early stage, so we are mainly figuring out what we can do with this community,” Ghai says.
Traveling in Honduras presented some culture-shock moments for the Lafayette students. For example, Tan recalls seeing a security guard with a shotgun standing outside a restaurant and the hotel providing a bodyguard for excursions to a nearby supermarket.
“It clearly reflects how poverty is a real issue that translates into violence and increasing crime rates, and can easily become a downward spiral if concrete measures are not carried out,” he says. “On the other hand, being in the villages and seeing the children running around innocently, and the people happy with their lives, it showed me how simple life can be, and that the idea of ‘good standard of living’ is rather subjective.”
Other students who traveled to Honduras were Jack Fedak IV ’13 (Boulder, Colo.), an electrical and computer engineering major; Elizabeth Anderson ’14 (Madison, N.J.), an art major; Andrew Fixler ’14 (Weston, Mass.); and Stefano Valle ’14 (Princeton, N.J.), a government & law and foreign language major.