Milly Drijaru, Endiro Coffee’s Head of Coffee is soft spoken, and strikes me as a little bit shy when she comes to meet Joan and I at the newly opened branch in Muyenga. She does not waste time into starting off her set up process, as I sit down and think to myself, “The art of coffee is definitely something I’m here for.”
Over the years, I have developed a great appreciation for a cup of coffee and I love cafes for the conversation, the smell of coffee that envelopes you, the ideas that seem to be cafe inspired and the way productivity hours roll by when you want to be alone in a room full of people. As I patiently wait for Milly to set up and show me what it entails to get a perfect cup of coffee I am excited, and running through the questions I hope she will be able to answer in my mind. In the meantime my eye picks up on details like their playful cups of coffee, industrial looking furniture, and a set up of donuts with all sorts of toppings, that I try not to drool over.
When Milly starts to tell me her story, I realise that there is a slight quiver in her voice. Although she admits to being camera shy, I quickly pick up on the fact that she speaks with conviction and passion and her emotions are practically tangible. I find out that Milly started working in Endiro as a barista and when an opportunity opened up in to work with coffee farmers in the field, Milly raised her hand. Years later, she leads the community program. Over the years, Endiro has built a network of coffee farmers. They train these farmers on how to utilise their land through better farming practices. Endiro has also afforded her the opportunity to embark on her Masters of Public Health.
She explains to me that hers is not the only success story. Endiro, through their vision, which is to end child vulnerability through coffee, makes it a point to employ people who need a boost in their lives, and that is why I see many young faces working in the coffee shop. It turns out that many of them are university students.
I’m curious about how the farmers received them, and Milly tells me that for starters many of the farmers are women (this undeniably makes me do a mental dance because we can never have enough women being successful). According to her, although many of the women wanted to partner with Endiro to provide them with coffee, they had to speak to their husbands who owned the land. Many men did not want to hear about their wives taking their land and making a living out of it, but the men in an area called Bukalasi in Bududa District welcomed them with open arms. They identified with the belief that empowering their women, meant empowering their children and it would come back full circle to them. Years later and these partnerships have grown, and many of these farmers relate with the team from Endiro on a personal basis.
A partnership of this sort is not a string of rosy occurrences, as Milly tells me that at one point their farmers experienced land slides, and in these slides they lost 14 of their coffee farmers. Milly is quick to point out they (the team from Endiro) physically went to be with these families and support them through their trials. As Milly speaks about attending some of these burials, I cannot help but think to challenge myself personally about what how far I would take a business partnership. It hits me that business relationships of this sort are what lead to unwavering loyalty.
I cannot help but feel like with Endiro, its never just a cup of coffee. More people in Uganda should know their story and love for our communities and individuals. I love a home grown success story, but one that is holding our communities and bringing them up along with them – I love even more. Out of curiosity I ask Milly what she feels like working in Endiro. “This is my family.” she says amidst a wide beam on her face. “Turning away from them would be like turning away from my home.” and I get the feeling that she means it. Milly also divulges that many of their farmers provide for their families, their children are doing diplomas, and some of them are educating their children outside of Uganda.
After Milly has told me this story, alongside showing me what it takes to make a perfect cup of coffee, I am excited to come and share it with you. It’s always good to hear the back stories of entrepreneurial stories and better still stories of places that we have seen and walked by for years! Yes, Endiro is certainly so much more than the artsy and cool coffee shop I’ve seen them as for all their years of operation in Uganda.
Photography of by Walsh of AD Visual Films.