Women Empowered Through Coffee in Costa Rica

by isvolunteers on Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Many of us enjoy a coffee each morning without ever stopping to contemplate where it came from, who grew it or how it got to us – but you may be interested to know that the journey behind your daily brew can be quite complex and is often made by some remarkable people. Having just celebrated International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, it’s fitting to share the story of a group of incredibly determined women that ISV has been fortunate enough to support for over 10 years and have recently become the subject of the inspiring documentary film “A Small Section of the World”

where coffee comes from

Do you know the story behind your morning cappuccino? (c) Narelle Webber, ISV.

rural costa rica

Imagine this as the location for a volunteer program; Biolley typifies beautiful rural Costa Rica, nearby La Amistad National Park.

ASOMOBI (the Women’s Association of Biolley) is based in the south of Costa Rica near the UNESCO World Heritage Listed La Amistad National Park. This coffee farming community was first introduced to ISV in 2005 by ISV’s longest-serving Project Leader, Malo Ramirez.

ISV volunteers in costa rica

ISV volunteers at ASOMOBI, Costa Rica (c) International Student Volunteers

ISV formed a partnership with ASOMOBI after recognizing the tremendous mutual benefits to be gained; ISV volunteers had the unique opportunity to be immersed into a rural  agricultural  community, while learning about sustainable development, organic farming and women’s strength and success in a traditionally male-dominated industry. On the other hand, the community benefited through the helping hands of volunteer support, the added source of income from home-stays and the social value of cultural exchange (which the local children enjoy especially).

volunteer in costa rica

ISV volunteers taking part in recreation and cultural exchange with the local children at Biolley (c) International Student Volunteers

Over the last 10 years, ISV volunteers from around the world have helped to accomplish many tasks within the community, such as constructing communal facilities, painting murals at local schools, landscaping public facilities, assisting with the maintenance of two local community forest eco-tourism trails as well as harvesting coffee plants.

Laura, founding partner of ASOMOBI

Laura, founding partner of ASOMOBI (c) ILLY

How did ASOMOBI begin?

During the 1990’s, the price of coffee plummeted causing farmers in Biolley to abandon their coffee fields in search of better work opportunities. This left the women in the village with no way the support their families.

This crisis brought local women together. They developed a plan for a sustainable future, which involved the construction of the first female-run coffee mill in Costa Rica. The community built the micro-mill from scratch and with little knowledge of how to make coffee, learned everything they needed to along the way.

Although ASOMOBI has been successful, it hasn’t been without its hardships. In 2012, the ASOMOBI lodge (which contained a kitchen, several rooms, bathrooms and offices) was destroyed in a fire. This building was particularly important as it offered accommodation for rent outside the coffee harvesting season and was a primary source of income for ASOMOBI families for about eight months per year.

volunteers in costa rica

ISV volunteers inside the partially constructed new lodge (c) International Student Volunteers

With money received from small grants and the United Nations Development Programme, along with the assistance of many helping hands (including ISV volunteers) the community has been able to partially construct a new lodge – but they aren’t finished yet. If you are interested in donating to ASOMOBI for the final stages of the rebuilding process, you can do so at Rebuilding Dreams. ISV recently donated US$1250 to help, and will be sending two volunteer groups this coming June, 2015. We hope for the lodge to be back up and running in full by December 2015.

A Small Section of the World

The women of ASOMOBI have been on quite a journey to get to where they are today and their story has inspired the 2014 documentary ‘A Small Section of the World’, directed by Lesley Chilcott. The film delves into the lives of these women, providing insight into their struggles and achievements as a community bound by determination and strength. Multi-Grammy award winning singer and international superstar Alanis Morissette was also heartened by the ASOMOBI story and has teamed up with the Costa Rican Grammy winning Carlos Tapado Vargas to create the film’s title song.

Drying coffee

Drying coffee (c) International Student Volunteers

You can download the song here. All proceeds are matched by the Ernesto Illy Foundation and go directly towards providing scholarships for women around the world to earn a Master’s degree in Coffee Economics and Science.

Check out the trailer for this eye-opening documentary and learn a little bit about all the hard work that goes into your morning espresso or cappuccino!

This final word from Giselle Solís Gonzales, host-mom to seven previous ISV participants and current President of the ASOMOBI Board, highlights the significance of our programs to the local community:

“As ASOMOBI we have learned from the ISV Program and its participants how we as human beings have the capacity to give to others, even if they never met before and therefore do not know each other. Over all these years they have supported us to reach our dreams as we strengthen our friendship and solidarity”.

Check out more photos of ISV volunteers hard at work but having fun on this amazing project here.

To learn more about ISV’s international programs and meaningful projects, please visit our website.


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