Tag Archives: Nicaragua

Helping children find a better life

By Bruce Stambaugh

Joe Heatwole, 33, of Dalton, Ohio went to Nicaragua to help a friend inspect some land and came back with an idea to help scores of children.

Heatwole has turned that idea into reality thanks to his own hard work and the help of several others. The production manager at Valley View Oak near Mt. Hope put his management skills to good use.

Joe Heatwole by Bruce Stambaugh

Joe Heatwole displays a bag of Better Life Coffee.

While visiting in the rural Nicaraguan mountains, Heatwole saw the needs of many poor and orphaned children. He was determined to help them if he could.

He came up with what he thought was a logical solution. Americans love coffee, and San Marcos, Nicaragua just happens to produce great tasting, high altitude, shade grown coffee that is low in acid.

Better Life Coffee was born. The name reflects the purpose of the mission.

“If you can help a child,” Heatwole said, “you never know their potential.”

The conditions Heatwole saw in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in Central America, drove his passion to help.

“What I saw was a life of hopelessness,” Heatwole said. His hope is to raise enough funds by selling Better Life Coffee, which is labeled fair market coffee, to build a boarding school for up to 60 children.

Heatwole said there would be six homes built for the children, three for boys, and three for girls.

“We don’t want to westernize them,” he explained. “We just want to give them a good education.”

Heatwole, who was born in Alberta, Canada, said local people would be used to build the boarding school. He said the goal is to have the construction completed in a year.

While waiting for a plane at the airport in Managua, Nicaragua, he randomly met Bill Sullivan, who works with indigenous tribes there.

“Bill is looking to translate the Bible into their native language,” Heatwole said. “He also wants to start a coffee plantation for them.”

Coffee berries by Bruce Stambaugh

Shade grown coffee berries ready to be picked.

With Sullivan’s support and contacts in Nicaragua, Heatwole was able to put his idea of selling coffee into action. First, though, he and his wife, Heather, decided to dip into their own savings and purchase the first 960 pounds of coffee.

Since the coffee beans are shipped green, Heatwole needed to find a place to roast the beans. He turned to the proprietors of Wallhouse Coffee in Sugarcreek for advice since they roast their own coffee. They agreed to store and roast the coffee as needed.

Heatwole said Better Life Coffee is a recognized nonprofit company in Ohio.

“That means that everything earned goes to help the children in Nicaragua,” he said.

Heatwole’s philosophy is simple. “Since most people drink coffee,” he said, “why not have your money go to a good cause?”

Better Life Coffee by Bruce Stambaugh

The label says it all.

He said the coffee may be purchased at Jitters and Surplus 61 in Millersburg, and at P. Graham Dunn in Dalton. The coffee can also be ordered online at Better Life Coffee on Facebook or by emailing betterlifecoffee@gmail.com. Whether whole bean or ground, the coffee sells for $11 a pound.

Heatwole sees selling the coffee as a great fundraiser for youth groups. He said he plans on leading a group of interested persons to Nicaragua early next year so they can see firsthand what the needs are there.

Heatwole said the goal is to raise $10,000 from coffee sales. Others will help raise additional funds through different channels to complete the boarding school, according to Heatwole.

Leave a comment

Filed under article

Abby Hart has a heart for the environment

Abby Hart by Bruce Stambaug

Abby Hart displayed some of her favorite mementos from Nicaragua.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Abby Hart, of Millersburg, loved science.

“But I didn’t want to be a doctor (like her father, Andy),” she said.

Instead, Hart put her scientific efforts into something she really cared about, the environment. She graduated from Wheaton College in 2009 with a degree in environmental studies.

After spending a year in Nicaragua through Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, Hart has just begun a new job at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She is a program assistant for the Eco-Agriculture Working Group under the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.

She will be working to interconnect conservation and agricultural practices at Cornell. After her experience in Nicaragua, Hart said she considers this job an answer to prayer.

“I thought I would be preparing to go to grad school,” she said. “But now I’ll get to work and attend grad school as well.” Cornell has a graduate school program for employees, which Hart said she plans to take full advantage off.

A friend in California informed her about the job, knowing Hart’s dual interests in conservation and agriculture. Hart thinks her new position will be a good fit.

“They do research on agricultural procedures and conservation practices,” Hart said. “They focus on rural livelihood.”

After her SALT experiences in Nicaragua, Hart should be well suited for the job.

Hart lived for a year in a rural village in the central highlands of the Central American country. She had previously spent three months in neighboring Honduras, also through MCC, in an internship where Hart honed her Spanish skills.

In Nicaragua, Hart was involved in a food security project where she assisted locals in rearing small animals. She helped them learn how to raise rabbits and goats, two animals that Nicaraguans are normally not familiar with. She said they also raised chickens and sheep.

“We also worked in a water security program,” Hart said. “Ensuring clean drinking water there is crucial to prevent disease.”

Hart served as a liaison between department officials and the project beneficiaries, meaning the people who were involved in the programs. In fact, Hart lived with one of the beneficiaries in the small town of San Pablo.

“My host was one of the community leaders,” Hart said. “Thanks to cell phones, I’m still able to stay in touch with her.”

Hart, 23, returned from that assignment in July not knowing exactly what the future held for her. She was able to obtain a short-term job in agricultural research at the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster. She had worked there previously in other summer jobs.

During those summer stints at the OARDC, Hart worked with a number of international students. It was then that she was able to improve on one of her hobbies, cooking. She also enjoys walking and biking.

“I still wanted to do agricultural and environmental related work or studies,” she said, citing the importance of conservation and agriculture working together.

Hart said she thinks her experiences at the OARC and in Nicaragua helped her in obtaining this new post.

“I am really excited to get this position,” she said. “It will involve working with both developing and underdeveloped countries. She said Cornell focuses its research on strategies in agriculture and the environment.

“They work in Central America and I will help in building social networks,” she said. “They apply the active learning approach to research and it is interdisciplinary.”

“It will be my job to obtain the most optimal solution for both agricultural and environmental processes,” Hart said.

Given her life experiences, her interests and her enthusiasm, the future looks bright for both Hart and those with whom she will be working.

Leave a comment

Filed under article