Making a difference with Bwindi Coffee

Photo: archive of Kateřina and Emmanuelle Chauveau

Kateřina and Emmanuelle Chauveau are an enterprising couple who fell in love with Uganda and started helping orphans in Bwindi. In order to support their charity project they eventually set up a business based on their mutual love of coffee. With help from the Czech Development Agency they are now exporting Bwindi coffee to their home town of Brno in Moravia where it is processed in a sheltered workshop. I spoke to Emmanuelle about their sustainable business venture and the rewards of being able to give Bwindi orphans the chance to lead a better life.

Photo: archive of Kateřina and Emmanuelle Chauveau

“The way we started in Uganda was helping kids. Kateřina was a tour guide in Uganda, taking Czech tourists around Uganda and neighbouring countries and she saw that there was a problem with some orphans in Bwindi. So she started helping, first with friends, who said we have to do something, we cannot leave it like this, and then it gradually developed and in 2006 she started a non-profit organization to help the children there: Bwindi Orphans. But to run such an organization you need money so we did what we always tell the kids: help yourself first. We looked for ways to raise money. And because we both love coffee, we started looking into the possibilities in Uganda. And that’s how Bwindi Coffee came about.”

Why did you choose Bwindi coffee in particular? Can you remember the first time you tasted it?

“Choosing it was a long process. On paper Uganda has everything to make great coffee. But when Kateřina was in Uganda she really struggled to get good coffee. She would be served instant coffee at the hotel, they simply did not have good coffee. So she started investigating and first tried bringing roasted coffee from Uganda to the Czech Republic, where she served it to people interested in helping the Bwindi Orphans project. But we soon realized that the coffee lacked freshness and was not roasted the way we like it, so we looked into the possibility of buying green coffee from Uganda and roasting it here in Brno – which we eventually did.”

So you get it from local farmers in Uganda?

Emmanuelle visiting farmers,  photo: archive of Kateřina and Emmanuelle Chauveau
“Yes, we realized that there is coffee and coffee as they say and as we learnt more about it we discovered that we could get much better coffee if we worked with the farmers on its quality. So that’s what we did. We looked for farmers willing to work on achieving the best possible quality and those able to grasp the concept that if you do a better job you will get better money.”

How did you find the farmers that you are now working with? Did you drive around and visit various plantations?

“We did a bit of that too, but because Kateřina had already been working in Uganda for several years as a tour guide and then helping the Bwindi orphans we had many contacts. So we discussed it with various people, met friends of friends and visited some farmers. We saw how they worked and discussed possible cooperation with them. And today we have four groups of farmers that we are working with. But it took time, it was a gradual process.”

So now you export green coffee from Bwindi to the Czech Republic where I understand it is roasted in a sheltered workshop in Brno, is that right?

“Exactly. That is where I am right now. We started out by sub-contracting the roasting until we were ready to implement our sheltered workshop where we now do everything ourselves – we roast, we sort, we pack…”

Was it difficult to sell the concept of Bwindi coffee here in the Czech Republic?

“It is sometimes difficult to make people understand how different we are. Many big importers and roasters will talk about the farmer they buy from but, in actual fact, they are not in direct contact with the farmer. They buy from an importer and do not know the farmer in person. We do. We work with them to make the coffee better and we buy their harvest for a good price every year, even though a harvest can be better or worse in a given year. So we work with them and support them, year after year.”

And does it help when you explain this? Does it help when people know you are helping orphans in Bwindi via this business?

“Of course it helps. When we are able to explain, people appreciate and value that. What is difficult is selling our coffee without direct contact – through a newspaper, through a few pictures, through our website it is more difficult to explain what this enterprise is all about.”

So what are you doing then? Are you organizing some kind of coffee-tasting events where you can explain all this?

“Yes, we organize such events and have tried reaching people through the Internet, but the response is slow there. So we take every opportunity that presents itself to talk about our project, to explain and to spread the word.”

Who are your clients – are they ordinary people or institutions?

“It is a mix of both. There are many ordinary people, often the people who help sponsor our children, but we also have companies and institutions buying our coffee for their offices and events.”

We already said you are helping orphans in Bwindi, how are you doing that?

Kateřina meeting the children and sponsors in Buhoma,  photo: archive of Kateřina and Emmanuelle Chauveau
“We organize long distance adoptions via which we are sponsoring children, paying for their tuition, paying for their uniforms, shoes, school supplies, school lunches and so on. What is different about Bwindi Orphans is that everything is done directly, in a very personal way. We do not give the money to someone to buy school supplies – we do it ourselves. We visit the families where the kids are staying to see how they live and we do our best to select the poorest of them. When you go to Uganda you may find that all the kids look the same and they all look quite poor, but actually within a village there are big differences. And often, when external help comes, it is the same people who get it –the most daring – and the really poor ones, who are kind of helpless, they will not get it. So we try to find the poorest ones to support.”

So are you supporting them from the profit of this coffee business or are you involving other people to adopt them long distance?

“People are adopting children in these so-called “long distance adoptions” which means that the money they donate goes to the child, but running the organization also requires expenses – you need to go to Uganda, use a computer, cover phone bills and so on, and those expenses we try to cover from our coffee business.”

And what are your plans for the future? Are you planning to spread out –either in charity or the coffee business?

“Our plans for the future go along two lines. One is to export green coffee to other roasters in Europe. One motivation for that is to increase the volume that we are taking from the farmers so that we can assist them more, and the other is that a bigger volume means we can send the coffee by containers and thereby decrease our logistics costs. The second goal is to establish a business in Bwindi which would sell Ugandan products, mainly coffee, but also dried fruits and teas –in order to create a permanent location for the project in Uganda and that outlet will also be a place for our orphans to learn and to acquire skills.”

Emmanuelle, you and Kateřina have spent a long time in Uganda. What do like about life there?

“What I like is the energy that the people have and their attitude. Compared to us they have a much more difficult life, but still they are full of hope, they try hard and they celebrate the day with their happiness – that is really beautiful. The kids are grateful for any help, when you go once you do not necessarily see this because they are happy all the time, but when you visit again and again they get to know you, they know what you do for them –you see it in their eyes and it is really very rewarding.”