Chocolate University Returns To Mababu, Tanzania
Our Chocolate University business immersion program students just returned from spending a week in Mababu, Tanzania- truly the trip of a lifetime. This is the sixth group of high school juniors and seniors that we have shepherded on a journey to rural Tanzania to work alongside our farmer partners–and our first since the pandemic put everything on hold! It’s an arduous trip across the globe, but these students are well prepared–they’d been waiting eagerly for this moment since they began prepping early this year.
A Warm Welcome
Stepping off of the plane and onto the hot tarmac after 60+ hours of travel and seeing the beauty of Tanzania for the first time is overwhelming in all the best ways. And after a 6 hour bus ride, our group finally arrived at the village of Mababu. It was a sweet reunion for Shawn and Mama Mpoki and the farmers; and an exciting end to a very long journey for the students– the village had planned a welcome ceremony to greet them, something they’d been preparing for months!! In the courtyard of the preschool, flanked by thick clouds, our farmer partners gathered and, with drumming and dance, told a story of welcome through movement and sound. It was exuberant, joyful, and deeply moving.
The Chocolate University students thanked them by singing, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” The event culminated in a pinning ceremony where students presented farmer partners with lapel pins honoring the nearly two decades of partnership between the Mababu CCF and Askinosie Chocolate. Why is the welcome ceremony important? By expressing their genuine excitement and thanks for one another, farmers and students cultivate connections. This warm welcome created a bond between them that deepened as students and farmers worked in partnership to accomplish community development projects.
“We missed you!!” It’s something our farmer partners have said again and again to our Chocolate University students and team. And they mean it- and they show it. In every action and moment, they connected with the Chocolate University 2023 students and ensured they had the best experiences possible.
Our farmer partners invited students into their homes and cocoa shambas– a very meaningful day for our students as they experienced the radical hospitality that is so special and unique to folks in Mababu. During these visits, students harvested cocoa (removed the pods from trees using a long bamboo pole with a blade on the end). After the pods were collected, they learned how to break open the pods and scoop out the beans, placing them in a bucket. They learned firsthand the hard work that it takes at the farm level to make chocolate. One full bucket of beans represents about five ethically-sourced craft chocolate bars. All of that hard work– for five Tanzanian chocolate bars!!
The students then visited the Livingstons- Mama Mpoki and Mr. Livingston- the heart of the Mababu community. They learned about leadership from Mama Mpoki, Co-op leader, who shared how she transformed the group into the community-centric organization it is today. The students exchanged simple but meaningful gifts with our farmer partners and enjoyed lunch with them.
At Askinosie, we always say, “It’s not about the chocolate- it’s about the chocolate.” Our direct trade business model allows us to focus on our farmer partners and their communities. Chocolate University’s (Chocolate University) community enrichment projects are an extension of this vision and are an important part of any Chocolate University trip to Tanzania. This year our Chocolate University students worked alongside our farmer partners on several initiatives.
They conducted soil and cocoa bean sampling using state-of-the-art technology, allowing us to profile the Mababu cooperative’s cocoa bean farms. We’re excited to share more information on this project in the future. Another group assisted with an English immersion program at the Mababu Chekechea(preschool), where Chocolate University students practiced English with preschool students through play and songs– an onlooker described the sound as “beyond joyous.”
Visioning is an important part of the curriculum for Empowered Girls and Enlightened Boys and our Chocolate University high schoolers. Both sets of students have been working on their personal Visions for the last few months and spent time sharing them with each other. By writing visions, these kids are critically thinking about their futures and what steps they can take to meet their goals. Our Chocolate University students were inspired by the level of detail and ambition shared by their Tanzania peers. This kind of exchange is what kinship is all about.
The final project introduced sustainable feminine hygiene products to a test group of Empowered Girls students. Chocolate University has long provided disposable products to students for years to help keep young women in school; but launching a sustainable program has been a goal, and Chocolate University students created an informative skit to help educate Empowered Girls students and destigmatize reusable products.
It’s about making great chocolate! And it’s also about making great connections with our farmer partners, Chocolate University students, and members of the Mababu community. This is direct trade!
Achieving Goals & Empowering Others
“I can’t remember when I’ve been more tired and more happy in my life. I have so much joy, it’s intense.“ – this is a quote from one of our Chocolate University students. It’s so palpable we could feel it all the way across the globe back at our factory in Missouri. And for good reason: the day was a memorable one for all– the Empowered Girls and Enlightened Boys graduation celebration at the Mababu Middle School.
The preparations for the festivities began early in the morning. Our students woke up at 6 am to help prepare food for hundreds of attendees: the students, their club sponsors, school teachers and administrators, local government officials, and of course, our cocoa farmer partners who act as mentors. Our Foundation funds this celebration as part of our sponsorship of these clubs.
The ceremony began with songs, dances, and skits created and performed by the EG/EB students– artistic expressions of the lessons they’ve learned since joining the clubs. Several students shared their visions of greatness with the entire crowd. One young woman presented a poster board detailing her goal of becoming a judge and how she intended to get there. We have no doubt that she will. Mama Mpoki, our lead farmer partner and a leader in the community, spoke to the girls and boys about believing in themselves and congratulated them for their achievements. Soap, underwear, and pads were distributed, along with some basic school supplies, and awards were handed out to top students in various areas like academics and leadership.
A Sweet Sendoff
As our Chocolate University Class of 2023 officially headed home- hearts and minds full of the new experiences, memories, and knowledge they cultivated on this life-changing trip- they reminisced on their adventure. The final full day was spent with farmer partners in celebration: tasting chocolate, sharing profits, and having a party on the shore of Lake Nyasa.
It was our farmer partners’ first time trying our Chocolate Covered Whiskey-Soaked Cocoa Nibs, made with their cocoa beans, which they loved! We then presented them with a plaque commemorating the awards we’ve received in the past year, thanks, in large part, to the superior-quality cocoa beans they produce.
During the profit sharing meeting, the farmers shared a hot cocoa beverage they made with freshly ground and roasted cocoa nibs with the group. Shawn walked line-by-line through financial statements translated into Swahili, discussing the calculations farmers. Witnessing this first hand helped Chocolate University students more deeply understand transparency in business. Then it was time to celebrate! Students and farmers sang, danced, shared good food, and played beach volleyball together.
When students were asked to share with our farmer partners what they had learned on this trip, one spoke up and said, “This entire trip comes down to one word for me: love. You have shown us so much love and hospitality. I hope we can carry that love home and share it with others.” These incredible students will, without a doubt, share the love and light they have experienced and carry it into their extraordinary futures.