Bienvenidos al Peru!

Bianca Finkel is starting her traineeship with Sympra and in collaboration with the empowering people Network she is doing so as epExpert more than 10,000 km away from home – in the Peruvian capital, Lima. She is not only gaining additional overseas experience, but also assisting the empowering people. Network member Café Compadre with communication. At least this was the initial plan…

Even though I’ve only been in Peru for a few days, there are already so many impressions and experiences I could share with you in this blog post.

The day I arrived, the whole team gave me a warm welcome, followed by an immediate introduction to Peruvian cuisine. After a long flight, the ceviche (raw fish in lime juice – my new favorite dish), pisco sour (Peru’s national drink) and tamal (banana leaf stuffed with spicy meat and corn dough filling) tasted even better. But I didn’t get much time to acclimatize in Lima, because on the second night we started our trip to Satipo – a province located in the rainforest of Peru and home to Compadre coffee farmer Cristobal. (If you’d like to know more about Café Compadre and Cristobal at this point, I’d recommend watching this video.)

“Hit The Road Jack”

At 3 a.m., Juan Pablo and Felix (two Compadres), Varun (a volunteer from India) and I headed out on our 12-hour journey into the jungle. For the others it was no big deal, but for me it was the most exciting ride of my life! The scenery was constantly changing, and despite the jet lag I didn’t want to shut my eyes for a second in case I missed something. First we drove through a desolate rocky landscape, climbing ever higher until we finally reached an altitude of 5,000 meters. Of course one of our tires chose that moment to burst, forcing us to take a break. Changing a wheel is never exactly fun, but the lack of oxygen made it even less enjoyable. After about an hour – and resting a dozen times to catch our breath – we got going again.

With every kilometer, the scenery became greener, and we saw alpacas, lamas and wild horses. We were heading for the jungle, which is so incredibly beautiful that it was hard for me to concentrate on the road. I was actually behind the wheel of the giant pick-up at this point, keeping it on dirt roads through the forest, while Juan Pablo and Felix were sound asleep. But when we came to a river I had to drive across, they were both wide awake and shouting encouragement.

Not all coffee beans are alike…

Apart from off-road driving, the last few days have been all about coffee. We picked, smelled, washed, roasted, brewed, tasted and scored one coffee variety after the other. Every day, we visited several coffee farms, and each one was different in its own way. Jeremy, who also came to Peru via the “empowering people. Network” and runs his own coffee business in the United States, accompanied us and for a whole week he shared his knowledge with the Compadres and the farmers. I too found his insights into the subject very helpful.

Each day we spent there showed me the enormous value of what the Compadre team does in the jungle. People here live in extreme poverty, working twelve hours a day on their farms just to be able to afford the basic necessities. Often they don’t earn enough even for that. Thanks to technology provided by Compadre, Cristobal’s hut now has electricity and he can roast his own coffee. Juan Pablo told how the moment in 2015 when Cristobal was first able to try his own coffee has become one of the team’s best memories.

Working in Lima is not all “coffee and cake”

However motivated the Compadre team is in its attempts to improve farmers’ lives, there is no escaping harsh reality. Up until two years ago, they were a university-sponsored project and could concentrate all their efforts on developing technology to improve the farmers’ well-being. But now they are an independent business, and are having to learn to reconcile their ideology with the need to make money. The Compadre team consists of passionate idealists, industrial designers and engineers – none of whom are necessarily business people. So this new role presents them with numerous challenges. Discussions revolve around internal processes, sales strategies, quality stabilization and the question of how to become economically self-sufficient by June 2018. If they don’t find a way by then of establishing Compadre as a profit-making brand, they will be unable to continue financing the enterprise. The clock is ticking, and the team needs all the help it can get to put together a promising plan for the months ahead.

Somehow everything turns out differently

Originally the sole purpose of my trip was to develop a communication concept. But now we’re working on a comprehensive sales and marketing strategy as well as trying to improve logistics and find ways to keep the coffee quality consistent. We talk, research and plan until our heads spin, while outside the roasting drums keep turning with their meanwhile so familiar creaking noise. It’s all very demanding, but I do enjoy it immensely. The commitment and enthusiasm that everyone here brings to Café Compadre are inspiring and uplifting. Every day you really get the feeling of being part of something good.

We will use the next few weeks to carry out a detailed market study, devise some specific marketing measures, and create a schedule and budget. Then it will be time for me to head back to Germany. Once I’m there, I’ll post again to let you know if we manage to get everything done according to plan, and share a few more stories about my time in Peru. Until then, if you’d like to find out more about Café Compadre or support the project, please visit us on Facebook or contact the team via the website. Bye for now and “hasta la vista!”

If you want to know more about the empowering people. Expert Service or look for opportunities to become active yourself, read here.

Bianca Finkel has studied social science and business administration at the University of Cologne and communication science and media research at the University of Hohenheim, where she graduated as a Master of Arts. Prior to her traineeship at the PR agency Sympra in Stuttgart, Germany, she worked in the communications department of Robert Bosch GmbH and as press assistant at a model agency.

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