"Este es mi derecho, poder trabajar, crecer y exportar mi propio café."
“As a young girl, I never dreamed that one day I would be a landowner nor a coffee producer. I used to pick coffee during harvest season with my mom, and I had to drop out of school after 4th grade to work. We picked coffee fruit at some of the big fincas (plantations) around Antigua, which didn’t pay well but it was work, and at that time I never imagined that I would be exporting my very own coffee.”
Lesbia Cecilia Camargo was one of the first women to join the San Miguel Escobar Coffee Cooperative back in 2010, along with her sister-in-law Virgilia. Her husband’s family had been involved in the cooperative for a number of years, but Lesbia and her husband Armando officially joined the year that Lesbia became a landowner after receiving a small loan from De la Gente. In her first year Lesbia exported just a few hundred pounds, an amount so low that when she delivered the coffee, some of the seasoned men in the cooperative snickered at her 3 bags of coffee. This reinforced Lesbia’s determination to produce more and more coffee each year.
In 2014 Lesbia received a second loan from the newly-founded Women’s Fund, created with support from the BFB Foundation. With this loan she was able to purchase 4 additional cuerdas, and in 2016 processed more than 3,000 lbs of coffee! This is an impressive feat considering she is also the mother to 9 beautiful children, her youngest born in February of this year (2017), meaning she almost always has a baby tied onto her back when welcoming visitors.
When Lesbia, her husband, and their children are all at home processing coffee, it’s a well-choreographed dance. Each person has their own role and moves about their small processing patio without missing a beat. Her older children help out after school, transferring the ripe cherries into baskets and stacking them up by their de-pulper. As she has been pregnant or recently given birth the last two harvest seasons, Lesbia lifts each basket and pour the freshly harvested cherries into the de-pulper. Her younger children make sure the de-pulper doesn’t get jammed, while Armando loads the de-pulped beans into large costales (sacks) for fermenting, and then carries away the fruit husk. Lesbia laughs that while Armando may be the strongest physically and has the hardest job, she often does her work with a baby on her back.
Lesbia admits that the work is hard, but says that it is worth it, and she hopes that other women join her in the workforce. She does it all so that her kids can have opportunities that she didn’t have growing up, such as continuing their education. Lesbia is proud of her work, stating “It is my right to do this work. As women it is more than a right, we need to work especially if we have kids. We can do it, we can go out and work and earn our own income to care for our children. Many women say that it is impossible. Impossible to work, especially outside of the home, but it’s not, nothing is impossible and we have to do this work to provide for ourselves and our children.”
This year, make a donation to our Women’s Fund and support Lesbia and the other women who work hard every day while caring for their families to bring us the coffee we love. The Women’s Fund offers low interest loans to women for land and resources, supports job-specific training, and opens access to new markets so women can grow their businesses and compete in local and international markets.
Last week we raise just over $500 to finance the purchase of a coffee depulper for Valeriana, Lesbia's sister-in-law so she can earn a dignified income processing coffee. Help us maximize our impact, and support more women the with the same low interest loans that Lesbia and Valeriana received by donating directly to the Women's Fund or add a donation to your purchase of a bag of our International Women's Day Coffee.