From Gang Member to Coffee Entrepreneur

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Recently, Miss Honduras, Maria José Alvarado, and her sister were found dead just days before the Miss World pageant. It was a particularly tragic example of violence especially toward women, in a country with the highest homicide rate in the world, according to the United Nations. The deaths of these two young women have become a symbol for the global community that reminds us that youth violence is Honduras is actually getting worse. Around the same time reading this news, I also learned of a pilot project that provides Honduran youth with alternatives to the systemic violence and gang culture that is deeply embedded in the culture. The opportunity comes far from cities and is surrounded by farming coffee. According to The Telegraph, the project known as Coffee vs Gangs is in its third month in a secret location in rural Honduras with 20 youth learning to grow the land and maintain coffee farms for 11 months. One of the individuals is Carlos, 18, was beginning to experience pressure from friends to join a neighborhood gang in his local city of El Progreso. "I saw this as a chance to change my life. The life I led was leading me to hell,” he said.

Who is taking responsibility for this project? Not the government, not even a do-gooder non-profit. In fact, Kenco, a coffee company known for their instant varieties and distributed by Mondelēz International, is behind it all. It's a small example of a global coffee company seeing value in investing in their supply chain. Honduras is the top coffee producer in Central America and the region contributes to 1/5 of the world's Arabica production. By providing opportunities for young Hondurans in coffee production is not only important for their future outside of gangs and violence, but for the country's economy.

Many continue to mourn the loss of Miss Honduras and her sister, two young women who represented opportunity yet tragically became symbols of the country's growing violence. Perhaps it will spark a quiet, but significant change for many young people. We know at least some will be able to escape to a hidden rural mountainside and grow their futures amid a global coffee industry that in many ways is relying on their success.

Photo (cc) by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ricardo J. Reyes, U.S. Navy and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.