Morgan Luke learns how the people of El Naranjito remove the coffee bean from the paja after drying. All photos for this story were provided courtesy of Dr. Jeremy Ramsey.
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New U.S. markets for Lycoming College’s Warrior Blue coffee prompted faculty and staff to purchase eight 100-pound bags of coffee from the coffee farms in the Dominican Republic during a trip in May. The new retail markets represent a significant growth since last year, when the group purchased only one bag for its newest line of coffees.
The coffee purchase, although significant, was not the primary reason for the trip. While in the Caribbean nation, faculty and students completed a number of projects that will continue to help lift farmers out of poverty. The projects helped students learn how to apply the theories and skills learned in a political science class taught by Caroline Payne, Ph.D., professor of political science.
“Our students were exposed to a level of poverty that most of us can’t even imagine and developed friendships few of us are lucky enough to claim,” said Payne. “The experience was transformative, pushing them to grow as scholars and as people.”
“I never thought this trip would have had such a strong effect on me. Words I use on a regular basis have changed meaning. For instance, ‘need’ has become a new verb and I now realize I use that word way too often in everyday life,” said Morgan Luke, a senior from Williamsport, Pa., with a major in international studies and political science “I realize happiness is a different feeling now — it takes a lot less to make me happy than before. I am thankful I got to experience and live a life like theirs, and for that, my own life will never be the same.”
One of the more significant projects included the planting of several hundred avocado and macadamia trees purchased by the College that will help diversify the local ecosystem. The shade trees grow in a symbiotic relationship with the coffee bushes and will eventually improve the quality of the beans so they can be sold for a higher price. The trees, which were planted by faculty and students alongside the farmers, will also provide farmers with additional income.
Another significant project focused on improving the area’s water system. Under the leadership of Jonathan Williamson, Ph.D., a political science professor at Lycoming College, students repaired a number of water lines and distributed water filtration systems to six families to improve access to drinking water. The students also used chemical and instrumental testing methods to evaluate the drinkability of various water sources with a long-term goal of providing access to safe and plentiful water in the country’s undeveloped communities.
“The results of the water tests were grimmer than we had hoped for and we realize now that the water quality issues are more widespread than we anticipated,” said Jeremy Ramsey, Ph.D., a chemistry professor who directed the water quality studies. “The studies lay the groundwork for possible projects our students can assist with next year.”
Other initiatives completed by the students included building a playground in Las Terrenas, taking students from a local school to a national park for a day, and completing a community needs assessment in Santo Domingo to prepare for future projects. Students also partnered with the Social Entrepreneur Corps to perform eye tests and sell affordable eye glasses for $5 or less to Peralta community members.
“The exceptional work these students performed, with passion and compassion, makes me proud to be their professor,” Payne said.
Students participating in the trip included:
Mary Katherine Yarish
The trip was funded in part by profits from Warrior coffee sales and the generous contributions of several donors, including Andrea Seuren ’76, Carl Hill ’62 and Donald Williams ’65.