Brewing up brighter futures in Nicaragua

By Bradley Turcotte – 

What began in 2006 with the simple act of providing a notebook and pencil to a child in Nicaragua, SchoolBOX’s operations in Central America has percolated to include classrooms, educational packages and a library program. 

However, instability in Nicaragua has hindered the organization’s ability to provide services. On Thursday August 16, Equator Coffee is hosting a fundraising screening of the 2015 documentary, Caffeinated, to support SchoolBOX during the crisis.

Pictured here is the November 2017 inauguration of the ‘Gracias a Dios’ School in San Juan de Rio Coco, in Northern Nicaragua. One of Equator’s owners, Craig Hall, is in the middle of the photo. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Tam
Pictured here is the November 2017 inauguration of the ‘Gracias a Dios’ School in San Juan de Rio Coco, in Northern Nicaragua. One of Equator’s owners, Craig Hall, is in the middle of the photo. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Tam

The Nicaraguan protests began in April as a response to President Daniel Ortega’s changes to social security, which increased taxes and decreased benefits. In the following months, other issues such as a proposed Chinese-backed canal through the country and a lack of response to forest fires fueled outrage.  Roadblocks around Nicaragua are a flashpoint for violence.

“Canada is deeply concerned about reports of several deaths and injuries in the demonstrations that are taking place in Nicaragua,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in April.

SchoolBOX acting Executive Director, Jonathan Tam, says the atmosphere in Nicaragua makes it unsafe for the organization to serve the nearly 20,000 children they assist each year. 

Fundraisers like the Caffeinated screening “help SchoolBOX stay alive and continue to empower our employees who have given their life to making education possible for the kids all around Nicaragua,” says Jonathan. “What we want to do is put ourselves in a position where we can continue our commitment to helping our kids. Only by helping our staff are we able to do that in the near future.” 

SchoolBOX works in approximately 110 communities in Nicaragua and during his time in the country, Jonathan helped expand the library program to 75 sites nationwide. 

Coffee is the country’s number one agricultural product and many of the classrooms SchoolBOX fund sprout up in the mountainous, java-producing regions. 

Nicaraguan beans are one of the components in Equator’s best selling blend “Freakin’ Good Coffee!” and once a year they are highlighted as part of the brand’s Single Origin Series.

Equator Coffee co-owner and chair of SchoolBOX’s board of directors, Amber Hall, recalls how impressed she was by founder Tom Affleck’s “vision and the model he was creating” when SchoolBOX was in its infancy. The founder worked out of the cafe and his dedication led Equator to collaborate with the fledgling organization. Since 2010, Equator donates 10 cents from every pound of their coffee sales to SchoolBOX.

The Halls have traveled to Nicaragua on three occasions and Amber says she has a deep love for “the people of Latin America and their incredible resilience and heart.”

Equator has directly funded three classroom builds, with plans for a fourth.

The history of coffee is a rich one, and Amber says she hopes the screening will educate viewers on its history, production, the issues affecting farmers and the culture surrounding the energizing beverage.

Jonathan Tam hopes the screening will inspire the community to learn more about SchoolBOX and the plight affecting Nicaragua.

“We couldn’t have achieved the things that we have done in Nicaragua without the love and support of our donor base and family in Canada. We wouldn’t be able to stay an entity, an ongoing organization without their support, love and confidence.”

The screening of Caffeinated is taking place at Equator Coffee (412 Churchill Ave. N.) on August 16 at 7 p.m. A donation of $25 to SchoolBOX is suggested. A tax receipt will be provided.


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This feature is brought to you in part by Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre

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