Karen Gordon is one of the founders of Cup For Education, a non profit dedicated to helping the rural coffee communities of latin America. When I was starting the Andy+, I was searching for a partner to help show me how to give back to the coffee communities. I found Karen in the listing of an annual coffee trade show. As soon as we spoke, I knew I had found the partner I was looking for.
Karen was passionate, dedicated and a true lover of coffee. The organisation she helped start is 100% volunteer based. People pitch in after their jobs and on the weekends. That means that all of the donations go straight to the people that need it which is awesome!
Naturally, I decided it would be fun to interview Karen for the blog.
Hi Karen, let’s start with the basics. What is your favorite way to drink coffee?
I love to drink French press. [Editor's note, this also help me gain Karen's trust #frenchpressforever]
What is your current job?
Sourcing and selling the best specialty green coffee to roasters all over the world.
How did the idea of Cup for Education come about?
I was on a trip with other women in coffee and we were visiting with cooperatives. We were sharing about ideas and problems that the women and children in these communities encounter. This one community had a partially finished school that they had built themselves with FT premiums and other donations but they ran out of money. It broke my heart. Darling, one of the young ladies I spent time with (who was only 15 at the time) was so ambitious and eager to learn. She had dreams of being a coop manager and owning land in order to become a coffee producer. Right then and there she inspired me to find a way to help this community and others like them in the world of coffee. We started up a collection among the group to complete the roof. Darling is now 21 and she was granted a micro loan from the coop and became a coffee producer. Unfortunately the Roya hurt her production and she had to find alternate means of work to pay back her loan. She is currently working in Panama and her brother is helping with her land back home. Martha, another sassy young lady became a nurse and now works in the local infirmary of the community. I am so proud of these young women. They were my inspiration.
What was the first project that Cup for Education had the chance to work on?
Sponsoring an additional teacher for the Los alpes community in Jinotega, Nicaragua. This is the town where the community built their school on their own. Then we had desks built for them by a local carpenter.
How many people work at Cup For Education?
We are all volunteers. 4-5 people scattered around the US
Where do you find the time and energy to work on Cup for Education?
It is not easy. I always say it is a labor of love. I spend time in the evenings, and on the weekends mainly.
Are there any organizations that you look up to?
There are a lot of great organizations out there doing great work. However, when it comes to educational platforms I love what Pueblo a Pueblo does and that is why we have been working with them the last few years to support the library development in Guatemala. I also greatly respect Café Femenino Foundation and what they do in the coffee communities. Working with them and with their people on the ground in coffee growing communities around the world, we have been able to build several pre-schools in Peru. We've also worked with them to develop the first distance learning program for high school and university level students in the region of Cauca Colombia, a very volatile area of Colombia
How many projects has Cup for Education helped in the past?
I’ll have to review that number. We have several ongoing partnerships, where we have been supporting a project and helping it expand over the years like our community center/computer lab in Huehuetenango, the pre-schools in Peru and working to develop libraries in Guatemala with Pueblo a Pueblo. We’ve also been supporting 1 student per year at La Bastille in Nicaragua. We’ve seen one through to graduation so far and we've just begun to sponsor another student. We sponsored a teacher for a distance learning program in Honduras for several years. We have a few one-and-done type projects. Usually those are construction projects with schools, latrines, etc. We try to work with the same groups or organizations to keep consistency and see progress among the kids. There are a lot of projects, I would have to go through my notes for all of them.
What is the most challenging part of working a non-profit?
Funding. Finding money, fundraising. Keeping things fresh and people interested. Finding time to go and have site visits.
If you had the name one memorable moment in the last 10 years working with Cup for Education, what would it be?
There are so many. I would say 2 very specific moments were attending the graduation of our student at La Bastilla School in 2014 and knowing that the opportunity she got there led her to an internship on a coffee farm in Costa Rica. Also, the inauguration of the School we funded, the Simon Bolivar school. I attended with my husband, sister, her son, and my brother. The effort put in on that rainy day by the children of the community and surrounding communities was priceless. The small band patched together with used instruments to play the Star Spangled Banner to honor us. I spoke to them in Spanish from the stage they built. There were poems, songs, dances and speeches. It was a humbling experience. There was such joy among everyone.
You can learn more about Karen and Cup for Education at
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