A Bridge Between Akron and Haiti: Forging a Connection through Coffee

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by Noor Hindi

It’s pouring rain and you’re driving a jeep down a mountain. The narrow path in front of you looks more like a muddy slip-and-slide than a

Photo by Drew Dawson.

road. You’re in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language, and to make matters worse, your jeep breaks down. Oh, and there’s a couple of Haitian mango farmers approaching you with machetes.

 

If this sounds a bit terrifying, University of Akron student Andrew “Drew” Dawson would disagree. Just hours before the jeep broke down, Drew successfully negotiated a business deal between a Haitian farmer and Akron Coffee Roasters. He describes the experience as “life changing,” but these words don’t begin to portray his time with the coffee farmer.

“[The coffee farmer] took pride in showing me that his coffee plantation was owned by his family for generations and generations” says Drew. “He started flipping through these pages of photos and showing me all these awards that he’d won for his [coffee] beans.”

Last November, through the student organization Zips for Haiti, Drew had the opportunity to visit Haiti and bring back coffee beans to Albert Macso, owner of Akron Coffee Roasters. Since then, Akron Coffee Roasters and Zips for Haiti have been selling the coffee to Akron, with proceeds going back to Haiti.

But Drew is only one part of the Akron/Haiti connection.

Created by Ezechiel “Zeke” Isaac, Zips for Haiti came to life in February 2015 as part of an honors research project. Because Akron and Haiti

Ezechiel “Zeke” Isaac (Photo by Noor Hindi)

are important to Zeke, he wished to act as a bridge between the two. Before attending UA through a scholarship from Akron residents Jan and Tony Lannetta, Zeke had only ever visited the U.S. once.

 

“When I came [to the U.S.] when I was 10, I thought I must have landed in paradise,” says Zeke. “The first thing that I noticed was how nice everything was here. I didn’t realize how much better life could be.”

 

Inspired by his trip, 10-year-old Zeke made it his goal to come to the U.S. He graduated from College Univers in Haiti as valedictorian. Because many do not have the opportunity to earn an education in Haiti, Zeke considered himself lucky to be able to attend UA and complete his education.

“I always wanted to come [to the U.S.] to go to school,” says Zeke. “With the younger generation and people like myself, what we do is turn to education to try to help Haiti. The first opportunity we have to leave the country, we take it. We believe that if we can better ourselves, then we can be in a position to help Haiti.”

A coffee farmer in Haiti (Photo by Drew Dawson)

While at UA pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Business and Human Resources, Zeke met Kevin Smith, the Director for Leadership Advancement in the College of Business Administration. While mentoring Zeke, Smith noticed that Zeke’s original honors project wasn’t living up to its full potential.

 

“Zeke was kind of this quiet, shy guy that was an enigma. He didn’t talk a lot, he didn’t say much, he could have easily been written off as this guy who just wasn’t trying very hard,” says Smith. “But he’s brilliant. He’s got three degrees now.”

 

Smith was right. Since February 2015, Zips for Haiti has sponsored five trips to Haiti. Zeke has also finished his bachelor’s degree, as well as two masters degrees. Aside from this, Zips for Haiti has made it their goal to raise $90,000 and fund a Haitian student’s education at UA.

That’s where Akron Coffee Roasters comes in. Each time someone buys a bag of Haitian coffee from Zips for Haiti or Akron Coffee Roasters, a portion of the proceeds goes towards the $90,000 goal. After Drew returned from his trip from Haiti, he shared the coffee beans with Macso, who helped him roast the coffee and prepare it for customers.

Photo of Drew Dawson, courtesy of Drew Dawson

“It was awesome. I’m not even a big coffee guy and I had like five different cups of coffee in front of me with different methods to make it” says Drew. “When you drink coffee, you get that warm and fuzzy feeling. We want people to associate this with Haiti.”

And those mango farmers with machetes? They just needed to cut a few mangoes off a tree for their business.

For more information, please visit zipsforhaiti.org and akron.coffee.

 

Noor Hindi is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry at The University of Akron. She is usually very nervous. Check her out at nervouspoodlepoetry.com.

 

(Featured image by Noor Hindi and Drew Dawson)

 

 

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