1. San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador - September 2014

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    Vitaliano (from the front of our bar) and I on his cocoa farm today at a profit share meeting. I’ve been visiting him for over 8 years.

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    Yoga before business. Me with my Del Tambo, Ecuador farmer friends in the cocoa trees this morning.

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    The Del Tambo farmers made me a chocolate bar!

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    Our Del Tambo beans right out of the pod just now.

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    Comparing our current batch to one made 7 years ago is a perfect example of how Direct Trade gives us a perspective that buying beans from brokers would not allow.

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    I spent time with our lead farmer, Vitaliano Saravia, at his farm yesterday.

    Del Tambo, Ecuador is known for their oranges. Can’t believe I’ve not had one until today.

    Container ship. Guayaquil Ecuador.

     


  2. Chocolate University — Mababu, Tanzania 2014

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    Our Chocolate University students received the star treatment this week; we hosted a film crew for something special! Stay tuned for more details… coming soon!

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    Leaving now for Tanzania!

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    So I’m sleeping/laying in my chair at Heathrow and my Quick Fit app woke me up and said “have time for a quick workout?” So this is half of our group on the last exercise - side plank.

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    Arrived Nairobi, Kenya! Everyone doing great. We board for Dar in a few minutes. Still have about another 12 hrs to final destination.

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    On our way. Just 3 more hours.

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    We are here!

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    Our Chocolate University students in class with Mawaya students.

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    Great day at Mwaya school with our Chocolate University students.

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    Lots of tears and smiles at last night debriefing led by Daudi Msseemmaa. We met outside with the sound waves of Lake Nyasa behind us.

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    Our Chocolate University trip to Tanzania is a complicated endeavor. Dr. Tom Prater and Kimberley Prater have accompanied us on every trip since we started this program in 2009. He not only keeps us on schedule during the trip but is deeply involved before we leave teaching our students about philanthropy and how to raise money for good causes. He is a behind the scenes operator and that’s how he likes it. He has spent a lifetime giving to our community as an eye surgeon, school board president, and overall unsung hero quietly raising money for those in need. He was the first person who contacted me in 2009 to ask about helping me raise money to take students on this trip of a lifetime. In the early days I wondered if it could be done he reassured me and told me not to worry; he was right. I am grateful to Dr. Tom Prater who makes things happen for the good in this world! He is pictured here with the Mababu Primary School Headmaster and Kellen Msseemmaa in the “turnover” of money raised by our students (with Dr. Tom’s help) so the school can build two classrooms.

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    Donita Cox is an SPS / International Baccalaureate psychology teacher at Central High School. She is on our Chocolate University Advisory Board and has been part of the high school Tanzania program since its inception. She has traveled with us since the beginning. She serves where ever needed but the best thing she does is listen to the students - many of whom she knows personally. She is a sounding board who cares about the students we take — always wanting them to have the richest experience possible. I am thankful for her commitment to our cause!

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    Chocolate University Tanzania would not be possible but for the hard work of Drury University Professor John Taylor over the past 5 years. He started with me in 2009 when this was just a dream. He single-handedly developed the curriculum for our students while they spend an intensive week on campus learning about small business, profit sharing, open book management, and all things Tanzania. He is also responsible for managing the massive amount of paperwork for the Drury side of the partnership. This year he and his wife -Meredith Taylor - helped lead our group on this journey of a lifetime. Thanks JT!!

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    As Caron Askinosie so aptly stated yesterday: “We spent the last 10 days eating, singing, dancing, teaching and learning the true meaning of courage and joy among the poorest of the poor in Tanzania.” The Chocolate University experience would not have been possible without Daudi Msseemmaa and Kellen Msseemmaa who host us in Tanzania and help me put together the in country schedule and budget. The real thing they do though is open their hearts to our students. I am forever indebted to them both.

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    Groundbreaking for the new classrooms at Mababu Primary School.

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    Analyzing cocoa beans at the Mababu Primary School.

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    Even though we share profits and do a full chocolate tasting for farmers on every origin trip, it never fails to feel as special and exciting as the first time. The farmers LOVE the chocolate tasting (remember, most of them have never tasted chocolate before we began working with them) but most remain shocked each year when we follow through on our promise and bring their cash profit share. Translators were not needed as shouts of “Asante sana!” rang out from both groups underneath the mango tree where we held our meeting.

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    We were treated to a performance from the Empowered Girls club we sponsor at Mwaya. Today, we witnessed the graduation of 13 young women who are so poised and articulate. We are so proud and inspired.

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    Mababu farmer group with our Chocolate University students.

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    I don’t want to leave this place. The scene of the beach party last night we hosted for Mababu farmers.

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    My kind of church. Music is glorious.

     

  3. I roasted a random sample of cocoa beans with the farmers from an upcoming shipment over a wood stove in a farmer's kitchen. This helps gauge the true flavor of the bean.
    These farmers collectively decided they would donate 10% of their profit share to relief efforts for victims of the super typhoon that devastated the areas surrounding Davao.
     

  4. I always roast cocoa beans with farmers in their kitchens. This trip was no exception.

     
     


  5. The Sweet Spot

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    1. I was able to plan a 26-hour layover in Istanbul before heading on to Tanzania. Because food is not only my job but also a big part of my life, I make eating a priority when I experience a new place. I have wanted to visit Turkey for most of my life, so I took full advantage of my short time there: I tried simit (a Turkish savory bread sold on every street corner); ayran (a staple drink made from yogurt, water and salt); a traditional chicken kebab; and baklava. I also really enjoyed sitting on a little stool at a sidewalk cafe sipping black Turkish coffee. The added benefit of an extended layover like this: It helps with jet lag, since it’s the same time zone as my destination.

    2. In each of our origin countries, we are involved with projects in the farmers’ communities. During my trip to Tanzania last summer, our team brought fully loaded laptops and projectors to the Mwaya Secondary School in Kyela. Since they don’t have electricity, they use a generator, but the fuel is too expensive, so one of the first stops I made was to visit the Kyela District government offices to follow up with them on their promise to provide electricity to the school. At the meeting, I told the government official that we will stop our work at the school if they can’t demonstrate true partnership and provide electricity. He agreed, and they began work immediately while I was there. This is another reason why we practice Direct Trade with farmers — I would never have been able to make this progress if I didn’t show up in person.

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    3. One afternoon, I met with a secondary cocoa farmer group we’ve been working with at the foot of Mount Livingstone on Lake Nyasa. The members of this group — which is led by a woman, a rarity in Tanzania — were eagerly waiting to show me the beans we purchased. Typically there are some issues to troubleshoot (usually having to do with mistakes in storing and harvesting) but the beans were stunning and the group was supremely well organized. This was a huge relief. Together we performed a cut test on a random sample of cocoa beans, where we cut the beans in half, examine the inside and grade each sample with a special system we have developed in Swahili.

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    4. I spent one night in the home of one of our farmer families at the foot of Mount Livingstone. My hosts prepared a wonderful dinner of Kyela rice, beef and fish and they bought bottles of orange Fanta for the occasion, which they could not afford, but that’s what they do here — something I call radical hospitality. I set up my mosquito net around a mat on the floor and as I was falling asleep I could hear drums in the distance, and the mother singing a lullaby to her baby in Swahili in the next bedroom. I was humbled, not because of the conditions here, but because of the attitude with which my hosts thrive in them. I was reminded yet again of why it’s important that I travel to see our farmer groups. It’s not just so that we can teach them, but so they can teach us.

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    5. The next morning I woke up to a rooster crowing, along with more songbirds than I could count, and then a group of farmers took me on a bicycle tour from one small farm to the next. We rode on trails, as roads do not exist. There is something so freeing and joyful about a bike ride under a cocoa tree canopy.

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    6. One day I led a workshop for the farmers on how to roast the cocoa beans and make cocoa liquor, hot chocolate and tea from the cocoa bean shells. Compared to countries in South America, Tanzania does not have much of a cocoa history, so this is not only fun, but important. Now this group can develop a fuller understanding of flavor possibilities, which depend on how they treat the bean post-harvest.

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    7. One afternoon, I met with about 200 Mwaya students under a huge shade tree. Most are in their mid-teens. We spoke in English, not Swahili (which was a good thing considering I speak very little Swahili, although I’m learning). Since this was my third visit, the kids and teens seemed really comfortable around me. We basically just sat and talked. One student told me that he wants to become a doctor and come back to his village. He is the top student (or what they call “Head Boy”) in the school. I was inspired as I listened to him speak and I asked myself, “Is our partnership with this school helping remove these obstacles to his success?” That is our hope.

    8. There are about 50 farmers in the co-op we work with, and during one particularly productive and enlightening afternoon, we talked about their 10-year-vision plan. They said they hope to see improvements in electricity, housing and transportation (they want to get motorbikes and trucks to help transport beans). Interestingly, it is not their goal to grow in size, but to diversify into other businesses. One of the elder farmers said, “I’m an old man but this discussion makes me feel young again.”

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    9. I typically ate the school lunch of corn, hominy and beans — the same meal prepared for 900 students who now have lunch everyday thanks to a self-sustaining lunch program we started at the Mwaya Secondary School in June. The PTA of the school harvests delicious Kyela rice, which we buy to sell in the States, and then we return 100 percent of the profits to them so they can purchase and prepare local food for the students’ lunches. We all agreed on a timetable for the Mwaya PTA to take over the project completely. We’ve basically been providing them with access to the market for their product, and now we are teaching them how to do it themselves. This is what sustainability is all about. By 2016, we will serve in an advisory capacity only.

    10. On my last day in Tanzania, many of the farmers told me that because of our cocoa bean purchases they were able to afford the school fees for their children. This reinforced for me how important it is to share the profits with these farmers and pay them above Fair Trade prices.

    Here is a link to this article as it appears in Papermag: http://www.papermag.com/2014/01/shawn_askinosie.php

     


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  7. Cooling warm beans in Mababu.

     
     

  8. Riding through the cloud forest in Ecuador.

     
     

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  10. I met with our farmer group in Cortes, Honduras this weekend to profit share, taste some chocolate, and plan for our next shipment of beans.
    This was one of the most meaningful moments from my trip to Honduras. The farmers gathered in a circle and asked to pray for our company.