1. Chocolate University — Mababu, Tanzania 2014



    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!


    Leaving now for Tanzania!


    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.


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


    On our way. Just 3 more hours.


    We are here!


    Our Chocolate University students in class with Mawaya students.


    Great day at Mwaya school with our Chocolate University students.


    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.


    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.


    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!


    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!!


    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.


    Groundbreaking for the new classrooms at Mababu Primary School.


    Analyzing cocoa beans at the Mababu Primary School.


    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.


    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.


    Mababu farmer group with our Chocolate University students.


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


    My kind of church. Music is glorious.


  2. The Sweet Spot


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.”


    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


  3. Cooling warm beans in Mababu.


  4. Chocolate University Trip to Tanzania

    Sunday, July 1

    3:44am: I am not totally sure if this is Saturday or Sunday. My watch says it is Sunday but my body says it’s tired as hell. I gently rise from my assisted sleep in 20C as our Kenya Airways 767 from London is over Northeastern Africa as we make our way to Nairobi. I can’t take the Bose noise canceling headsets off and am thinking of super gluing them to my ears. Right now I am not “cancelling” but listening to Suspicious Minds for the 54th time doing the drum solo down the aisle of the dark plane. I don’t think anyone saw me. I am leading our Askinosie Chocolate University trip to remote Tanzania with 15 students, two teachers, our School Board president, a computer expert, a photographer and hunger relief specialist. This is one of our student outreach programs in Springfield where our family owned, small batch chocolate factory is located. The students had a one week immersion on the Drury University campus to help prepare them to meet our cocoa farmers, experience the culture, and understand our business.


    We picked these kids out of many applicants. They’re all standouts.

    8:40am: We landed late from London to Nairobi. Not good. We scramble to our huddle outside the gate for a count and then run to Gate 9. Security check and lots of stress as I try to find Kenya Air agent who can answer the question about our luggage. “Will they it make it to Dar?” “Probably” was the reply. I start running through in my head what we will do without luggage for 21 people knowing we have to catch another flight in Dar. We are bringing laptops, wiring and the whole set up for the “Khan Academy in the box” for Mwaya Secondary School near where we buy our cocoa beans and this would not be good if they don’t make it. Luckily, the flights from Dar are our charters (two single engine planes) and hopefully they can wait. The last two hours have been pretty tense.

    3:10pm: We land at the Mbeya Airport in our two single engine Cessna Caravans after a two and a half hour flight from Dar es Salaam.


    The flight was not as choppy as the previous time I flew this route. I am so sleepy but the ride was made better by my first Stoney Tangawizi of the trip — a carbonated ginger soda. I love this stuff and you can’t get it in the U.S.


    7:49pm: We arrive by coaster (a small bus) at our hotel in Kyela, Tanzania (two hour ride from Mbeya) after starting our journey to get here on Friday. It’s been one long Sunday.

    9:45pm: Really!? A freaking snake in my toilet (that wont flush down). Toilets here require added water. He won’t go away — he’s fighting it. Finally got him to flush after the fifth water pour from my handy plastic pitcher on top of the toilet. He was not that big but big enough to wonder where he is now. I am tucking in my mosquito net and getting into bed for the first time since Thursday night.

    Monday, July 2

    7:00am: The fan above my bed sounds like a scene from “Apocalypse Now” so I turned it off and did not use it for the night. There actually is a hot water “button” for the shower with one temperature: scalding, like hot enough to brew coffee.

    8:30am: Pre-meeting breakfast with Daudi and Kellen Msseemmaa. They helped me organize this trip. They are the co-founders of Empowered Girls and set up clubs at schools in Tanzania. They have been my friends for several years. Kellen also works for us part time working with our farmer group in nearby Tenende. Breakfast is Sambusa, a fried dough with minced meat and spices.


    I will have another one of those please. The Africafe instant coffee was actually not that bad (sorry my pour over friends). I can’t leave out plain ole bread with some truth-in-labeling “Fat Spread.” Good news is that it is rich in vitamin A. Had to have some of that.


    10:00am: After the proverbial visit to the local officials we finally head to Mwaya Secondary School about 20 minutes outside of Kyela and our Chocolate University partner school. We were greeted by Headmaster Sedikea. He is always smiling.


    There were a couple of short speeches as the students listened and then I presented the school with laptop computers and explained what we would be doing together with the students and teachers over the coming week.

    10:30am: Our three groups are now all working at the same time on the school grounds. I hover from group to group. I first go to a classroom and help set up our rice bag stamping and filling assembly line. We previously paid for one metric ton of rice from the PTA (about $1 per kg). This rice is famous throughout Tanzania — the best. We are making 1,000 bags for them to put on my container of cocoa beans. We will sell the rice and all of the profit will fund a school lunch for one year for these Mwaya students who now have only one meal per day. Our students and the Mwaya students are working together stamping the front and back of the rice bags.


    11:15am: I check in on Eric Ham and his team setting the laptops and projectors in five different classrooms. Oh — and this school does not have electricity. We bought a generator to last until the government brings power to the school, which we hope is soon. Eric is working with a new computer teacher at the school who is funded by one of our donors. They are running wire from the generator site to the rooms now. Our students are helping and this does not look that safe to me with a student standing on a desk.


    11:25am: There is not much for me to do with the computer team as they are making progress and certainly don’t need my help. I check on the nutrition baseline data team. They are working with Convoy of Hope’s David Edson in the courtyard of the school measuring height, weight and arm circumference of the students. A local nurse is learning how to use the arm circumference tool. Soon all 1000 students will be measured before we begin the lunch program so we can see if the meals have an effect on these health data points. I circulate between these 3 groups to see what I can do to help and there is anything they need; spending most of my time in the rice stamping and bagging room. I am beginning to worry that we won’t finish all of the rice.

    12:10pm: PTA meeting with a larger group than any PTA meeting I can recall back home. We are meeting in what looks like a teacher meeting room and they have clearly decorated it for our visit with beautifully colored fabrics. I am seated at the head table along with the Headmaster. We explain to the assembled PTA members why we are there and what we are doing in partnership with Mwaya. They thank us for books we donated last year. Before that donation they had no books. I don’t understand how you have a high school with no books. The main thing I want to discuss is the lunch program funded by our sale of the rice. I explain the background of the program and that the hallmark of this program is that THEY are the ones doing the work — not us. They are the solution to their students hunger problem and this program will work without donations. They impress me with their quick answers and that they have already developed a “food committee” to handle all of these questions well before we arrived. This is the news I was hoping for.

    Then PTA members begin to speak a word of thanks for this project. One parent said in Swahili that “there no words to relate our gratitude.” I reiterate that we are doing this together and that they should thank themselves.

    2:00pm: We have lunch at the school in the same meeting room as the PTA meeting. The cooks Kellen has hired for the week bring lunch to the school. We all feel conflicted about eating knowing that students are not eating. Thankfully, classes are not officially in session and the students are present helping us are also getting lunch.

    3:30pm: We leave the school and head for Matema Beach on Lake Nyasa. This is a nice diversion from a day of intense emotions for our students. We were not prepared for a 2 hour bus ride though and did not know that the main road would be washed out (hello Africa).


    8:30pm: Dinner at our hotel. I keep saying “hotel” but I use that term not in the American sense of “hotel” but in the more broad definition of the fact that there are rooms with water and beds. It is actually very nice and perfect for us. We have spice Pilau chicken, vegetables, and potatoes. The Pilau spice is great.

    9:00pm: Daudi facilitates an end of day de-briefing. The students are filled with emotion and thoughts. Daudi gets them all out. For me the day was perfect and one of my best. When I put the pictures in my head months ago what this day would look like with all three teams working at the school, our students with theirs, it was exactly what the day looked like in reality. I will sleep well tonight. Just checked and no toilet snake tonight.

    Tuesday, July 3

    8:20am: Breakfast at the hotel of Sambusa, Andazi, some fruit and Africafe coffee. Andazi is a Tanzanian doughnut ball. These are home made.


    9:30am: We arrive in Tenende (small village about 20 minutes from Kyela and practically next door to Mwaya school). At first I did not recognize Mama Kyeja because she has a new hair style. She is the chairperson of the farmer group we buy beans from — UWATE. She gives me a formal handshake and then a big hug. She shows me their solar drying area, new fermentation boxes and new storage building.

    9:45am: Once we are in the meeting room — also their storage facility — we all get settled and begin the formal part of our meeting. We start with our bean analysis and comparison from the last crop sent to us compared to the first. This is not easy because we are disappointed with the last crop in some very specific areas. I hand out bean samples from both crops and begin the detailed explanation. They seem to be understanding. It is all in Swahili and Kellen is by my side translating.



    We then gave the farmers a complete chocolate tasting of just about everything we make. This is not easy in the heat but we brought polar packs to keep it cool. They loved tasting chocolate from other parts of the world and said that the Tanzania was their favorite.

    10:15am: One of the things we do is open our books to farmers and profit share with them. We brought cash to give to the UWATE farmers. We give them this share and explain how we arrived at the calculation by sharing our financial statement with them. This makes a bigger impact than I thought it would. I share with other groups but it seems to really make a difference today.

    11:30am: We start to inspect the cocoa beans for our current crop that we are buying now and that we have already advanced some money for. We break the students into three groups of five each and they perform cut tests on 100 beans in each group. We trained the students how to do this in my factory before we left so they knew what to do. We trained them how we grade beans and these kids did a great job. The results of the cut test are acceptable. The next step is a moisture reading on each bag of beans. My heart sinks; the moisture is too high meaning that by the time they sit on a ship for 45 days in a container they will mold and there is nothing we can do to recover them. I am disappointed because we have really worked on moisture with UWATE for the last two crops. I reject 2/3 of the beans. UWATE is not big enough to supply all of our beans so they also buy beans from neighbors and they will need to replace the beans I have rejected. I am glad this is early in the week as I will come back later and re-inspect for moisture.

    3:00pm: It’s a long hot ride back to Kyela. I have to admit I am kind of bummed at this development of wet beans. We set up a meeting with UWATE leadership for tonight in Kyela.

    6:00pm: Kellen and I meet with the five UWATE leaders including chairwoman Mama Kyeja. I spent a lot of time outlining my disappointment with their beans. This was a long meeting where I had to re-tread old ground of our price and terms negotiations for this year’s crop. They agreed that they need a better understanding of basic financial literacy. Kellen and I will help them with this. Trust is increasing between us. We pray before Kellen and I go back to our hotel. They promise to have dry beans for me to inspect before I leave. They implored me not to worry.

    Wednesday, July 4

    8:00am: Dr. Tom Prater, friend, President of our School Board, and one of our leaders on the trip brought a little bit of home with him. He is now placing small American flags on the straw hut patio where we eat our meals. Happy 4th of July!


    9:30am: We tour the Kyela Hospital. This is an eye-opening experience for our students. A night’s stay is $2.50 — an amount that many cannot afford. Dr. Prater wanted to see the patient wards but did not want all of the students to follow. I went with him and one of our students followed without us knowing he was there. We observe a kind of pain and misery I have not seen in awhile. Our student is overcome with grief almost immediately. I wish he had not seen this. What we both see is a child who is HIV positive in obvious pain, crying, face crinkled, and there is nothing anyone can do. Nothing to address his pain.

    10:15am: We are back at Mwaya school working in our teams getting the work completed. Dr. Charles Taylor of Drury University is talking to the local teachers about the Khan Academy videos on each computer — 3,000 lessons on each laptop — and how to maximize efficiency of the computers. He is specifically talking to them about the African School of Excellence model. This is critical because the student to teacher ratio here is 100 to 1.

    3:30pm: We’re at the Morovian Church in Tenende attending a special service that Mama Kyeja arranged for us. She is not only a cocoa farmer but the leader of her church choir. They sing the 23rd Psalm, among others and it’s beautiful. They presented us with gifts and asked me to say a few words. I thank them for their hospitality and example of faith. This example — I tell them — is something we can learn from them in America.


    Thursday, July 5 

    8:00am: For breakfast this morning there is a new addition: chapati pancakes. It’s a flatbread that I cant get enough of. Why didn’t someone ever tell me about this bread? I cut up bananas, fold it over and wow!


    8:20am: This morning Bob Linder, Charles Taylor, Tom Prater and I decide to walk the road to school instead of taking the bus. The roads are really not roads and walking them is a different feeling than riding our coaster. We pass by other walkers, bicyclists, rice farmers in the fields, and spend some time in the dusty wake of cars and trucks.


    10:00am: The men attended the meeting of the boy’s section of Empowered Girls Club at the school which is funded by Chocolate University. The boys are an integral part of the club because their support of the girls is necessary for the success of the club. The idea is to teach the girls about self esteem, sex education, and give them confidence to pursue their dreams. I did not get to hear the girls meeting but am sure it was meaningful. One of the reasons we fund this club is the fact that teen pregnancy is so high here. The reason is that the girls are so hungry that they are willing to trade sex for food. They are forced to drop out of school if pregnant.

    3:00pm: We are nearing the end of bagging up 1,000 units of premium Kyela rice but we need more plastic bags. We’re only 57 bags short but will have to stop for the day because there no more plastic bags in Kyela and they will have to drive two hours to Mbeya to get more.

    Friday, July 6

    9:30am: We are at the school and making sure that all of the computers are working in each classroom and that the rice is all bagged up. There is a lot of excitement in the air as the school prepares for the Empowered Girls graduation ceremony that Kellen is putting on. Drummers (called Ngoma here) are getting ready and I start dancing and get the little kids in a conga line.


    12:20pm: I am the “guest of honor” at the Empowered Girls graduation where 67 girls are being honored at the school. They perform skits, sing songs, dance and receive certificates. I am in awe of Kellen’s work. She is from Uganda and met Daudi in Tanzania. I think that she might be part angel or something. There is an aura about her. She imparts that to the young girls she works with. I am happy we are part of this.

    2:45pm: Kellen and I head into Tenende village for a final meeting with UWATE farmers. I am checking the moisture on the new beans; they are all perfect. This is better than I had hoped. I am cautiously optimistic that the remaining beans collected over the coming 2 months will be the same quality. Kellen will be back in September to check for us.

    9:00pm: After dinner the Headmaster stops by our hotel and has a special gift for me from the PTA. I greet him and notice he is carrying a plastic shopping bag in his left hand. He reaches in and pulls out my gift: a live chicken. This is a very special gift that is intended as a great honor. I think he might have thought I could just “carry it on.” I thank him profusely and ask that he keep the chicken for me until I return. We spend a lot of time de-briefing with our students tonight. Daudi has returned to Arusha so it’s up to me. There are lots of emotions and changed lives in such a short time. I cant wait to see what these kids become someday. I am already proud of who they are now!

    Saturday, July 7 

    7:00am: I had the sense we should leave early for the Mbeya Aiport. It was a good thing because we have a flat tire on our coaster in Tukuyu about 1 hour out of Mbeya. It is a chance for some last minute shopping for our students in the marketplace.


    11:20am: We are back on our charter single engine Cessna Caravans. I am in the co-pilots seat for the flight back to Dar. He tells me not to touch anything. This plane is brand new and the avionics have drawn me in for the two hour plus flight. I ask the pilot if he will let me land as we approach the runway. It was the first laugh I got out of him. I wasn’t kidding. I don’t know how to fly but after watching for a couple of hours…


    8:10pm: After a few hour layover in Dar and passing through Customs and security we psych ourselves up for a long, long series of flights that wont get us home until Sunday night. Next stop Paris. We’ll only be at the airport for 5 hours but I still wish I could speak French.

    Here is a link to this article as it appears in The Huffington Post:



  5. Books made possible by SE Rotary Club of Springfield.
    Kellen delivering message of thanks from us and Rotary Club of Southeast Springfield.
    Mama Kyeja roasting beans for the first time.
    Kellen Msseemmaa roasting beans with Mama Kyeja and other UWATE farmers.


  7. I had to try it myself. A lot of hard work by so many finally coming to fruition.
    Taking a first drink.
    The old well.
    This hand pump will be replaced in a few weeks with a 10,000 liter tank and a windmill pump. This well produces 3,000 gallons an hour.