COOPAC Coffee Growers

This was a day for the record books. We checked out of our fancy ( its all relative) hotel at 7:30. And then in typical African fashion between meeting the others, finding our host and buying water we were on the road by maybe 8:45. But what a road it was. We would at best label it a dirt crater….winding, deeply rutted, almost completely washed out in places. We had to get out and walk at times. Sometimes the car had to back up and try again. Grindingly slowly we edged ever farther up, passing people and waving children and tiny villages, a few very meager shops. Always with gorgeous Kivu lake spread out beneath us…. Shining silver, dotted with fishing boats and soaring birds.

lady with basket

There is very little land left fallow or scrub growth here. All is put to use. Terraced and settled. The people here are dressed in rags and poor, many hungry. After almost an hour…. Maybe 10 miles we come to a stopping place. Here we have to take only the bigger car so it will make 2 trips.
But let me pause and tell you who is coming and where we are going. We are going to the Kivu coffee and tea cooperative. These are poor farm workers, all Hutus. There were no Tutsi survivors in this area. Many of the men from here are still in prison. We saw some prison work gangs on the road. They are dressed in either pink or orange. The orange ones have confessed their deeds and told survivors where their loved ones bodies might be found and asked the relatives for forgiveness. They are serving a shorter sentence than the ones in pink who have not confessed. This process of village justice and reconciliation is called Gacaca and it is based on traditional ways.


So on this journey you will find MaryLynn, a master trainer in Trauma Resiliency Model who is from Asheville. She and I have worked together before. Then there is Sara who started the African Healing fund and lived in Rwanda at one time. she organized and orchestrated this whole trip: trainings, itinerary, hotels and so much more. To complete the fantastic four ( in addition to me)  their is Lynn, a retired health worker from Asheville with non stop energy and an ever ready laugh. We have been working and wandering, eating and laughing together.
Then there is the in- country members. Niak’ay, an amazingly competent young woman who looks like an Egyptian princess and speaks absolutely flawless Kinyawandan, French and English. She worked on the CRM translation before we arrived. Alex who speaks pretty good English and is the reliable go-fer. he works at Hotel Rwanda when we are not needing him. And Jaffy the quiet, unflappable driver. In addition we were joined by three specially chosen students who had just finished our training at the University 2 days before.  Sam, the sweetest young man, who loves Manchester United with an unparalleled  joy and wrote 3 senior dissertations all in English. Evariste, a quiet deep man. He was the oldest of the students and is married with 2 children. This is his home town so he was deeply pleased to be selected. And lastly Ernest who requires a whole book in himself. Skinny as a tree branch, he dresses in a tangerine orange sports jacket and shares laughter yoga with us all.

At last, after walking the last few hundred feet we enter a classroom where the 48 chosen participants are sitting 3 to a bench in a classroom. They have been waiting for us since 8:30. It is now around 10.


The row by the window is all men. The middle row is front half men and back half women and the 3 rd row is all women. They are dressed in their best— a mishmash of African, American and almost Indian clothing. The women look regal and ready.

We start with some welcoming words and then we ask them if they would begin by standing up and sharing a song. The woman begin it and soon they are clapping and dancing with the oldest women moving with the most enthusiasm. Then they go around and say their name and what their work is and something that makes them happy. It takes awhile but seems important. Everyone of them is happy that we have come.

After all the introductions we begin to teach the beginning concepts of the model. But rather than speak and be translated we very quickly turn it over to our graduates. And they take over with a passion. They are teaching and telling stories and acting it out. Before our wide eyes, this model is sprouting wings and taking flight! The people are nodding and commenting and totally engaged. We are now serving as coaches to our graduates.

When we get to the tracking we ask Ernest to lead everyone in laughter yoga. I invite in the children who are all peaking in the open door and glass-free windows to come stand in front. They all look so serious. Until Ernest gets them going. Soon everyone is shaking in big, belly-shaking laughter. We watch as the room changes from worn down skeptics to joyful participants. They get it!

We break for lunch not knowing how and when it will appear on this mountaintop but soon a couple of women and men arrive carrying three huge pots of beans and rice. They scoop out and serve us first of course, then the men, then the women and after the adults have all eaten they give what is left to the children.

We come back to practice, they bring up the example of a husband and wife fighting. Turns out in the front row to my left is a husband who is a leader of COOPAC, the coffee cooperative. In the front row to the right is his wife. She started the day looking very sour and saying she could not be happy. Seems there had been some marital strife. Now she says she loves her husband and goes to him with a big hug. The whole room erupts in applause! I am not quite sure what happened but whatever it was it worked.

We end with teaching them “He’s Got The Whole World in his Hands”. Then a song and dance they teach us and finally a big circle and we go around with one word. Finally of course the group photo shoot.


But the best part of this story is the PS.

PS: The next day Sara goes to tour the coffee farms and she meets a few people who were at the training. One very old man walked 40 minutes to get there. They all tell her how much it meant to them and that they are using it to stay in their resilient zone! One says his house is a happier place.


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