A program in Mozambique is helping keep girls in school one bag of coffee beans at a time.
Produced by small-scale farmers and roasted around the world, each blend of Gorongosa Coffee benefits wildlife conservation, rainforest deforestation, or girls’ education.
The profits from the Gorongosa Project’s Girls Run the World blend, which costs $17 a bag, go toward building 100 schools, giving 20,000 girls access to after-school programs, and providing 500 high school scholarships for girls in the communities where the farmers producing the coffee live.
The Gorongosa Restoration Project first partnered with coffee experts and local farmers to grow coffee beans in Mozambique’s Mount Gorongosa region in 2015. The project aimed to restore the rainforest that was ravaged by the country’s 17-year civil war and unsustainable farming methods, while providing an opportunity for farmers to support their communities.
The company’s mission is to get every young woman who lives in the Gorongosa National Park zone through high school within the next 15 years, Eric Wilburn, director of Gorongosa Coffee, told Global Citizen.
While volunteering with the Peace Corps and teaching in a rural community near Gorongosa National Park, Wilburn saw the dire education situation in the area. More than 70 children might be cramped into one small classroom.
"My hope is that one of the daughters of our farmers — right now we have both young men and women farmers and the women are incredible — goes to secondary school, goes to university, and comes back and ends up running the coffee project," Wilburn said.
More than half of girls enrolled in a primary school in Mozambique drop out by the fifth grade and only 11% continue to secondary education. Boarding school is the only option for many girls in the communities where the Gorongosa Restoration Project works, because there are no secondary schools nearby, Wilburn explained.
"It costs right now about $500 a year to send the girl to boarding school in Mozambique, and that's for tuition, room and board, clothes, books, travel — yet most of these families earn less than $1 a day," he said.
Gorongosa Restoration Project’s goal is to provide boarding school scholarships for every girl in the community annually and the organization is working to implement teacher training and teacher clubs to support educators in the region.
Through after-school girls' clubs, Gorongosa Restoration Project gives girls a safe space to learn and discuss women’s issues that affect their communities, from child marriage to gender-based violence. The club also allows girls the opportunity to meet other women from their community who are in leadership positions.
"First and foremost, it's just being able to interact with and see women, and learn from women who are doing incredible things to give these young girls the thought that they can be somebody, they can have agency over their future, and they can be a voice in their community and far beyond," Wilburn said.
Currently, the girls' clubs are on pause because Mozambique closed schools as a prevenative measure against the spread of COVID-19. Before the crisis, one of the biggest challenges was getting parents to permit their children to attend, because many of the girls who participate are expected to do housework when they’re not in school.
"Our goal isn't to force change, but just invite — especially the older men — into a different headspace, welcome them in there and see what they think, and hopefully nudge towards a more equitable cultural fabric in general when looking at gender norms," he said.
So far, many parents have come around, and are interested in joining the clubs too.
"The intention is that we create quite a holistic community development, [that is] socio-economically empowering and [a] gender-equitable system, like an engine that once it starts running, it just keeps going and we lift 200,000 people out of extreme poverty," Wilburn said. "We believe that girls’ education is the first step to kick start that entire kind of system."