“I don’t have the mind of an entrepreneur, but I have the mind of a dreamer”. Spokes, the shop of hope.
When you open the glass door of a small shop located on the edge of the Interamerican Highway in Guatemala, Christmas carols sound and immediately the smell of gingerbread cookies evokes the Christmas season, but it is also the sensory welcome to a small café called Spokes.
In the café is 21-year-old Madelyn. As I approach the counter to choose a drink, she offers the one of the season: a cappuccino with mint syrup. Although I choose a classic coffee, I can’t resist gingerbread cookies.
Finally my coffee is ready. The flavor is excellent. Madelyn has been working in Spokes for two years and has learned very well how to prepare the drinks, but not only that. She considers her greatest learning to have been knowing how to relate to people, the customers. “I’ve always had trouble communicating with people, I still have a lot to go through, but little by little I’ve learned. I have also learned about responsibility and knowing that behind every client there is a person,” says Madelyn. The work as a barista has been a crucial point at her young age. Madelyn, together with her younger sister, entered a home near the sector a few years ago. There, they live mostly with young people who have been abused and exploited. Some have even been victims of human trafficking. Although the girls are safe inside the home, many suffer from stigma and rejection in order to find a decent job.
Rolando is the owner of the café. Two years ago, he visited the home where Madelyn was staying and offered her a job opportunity. She immediately accepted.
“Our project is lucrative, yet the background is social. That’s how he describes Spokes Rolando Monterroso’s coffee shop. He adds, “We try to make our café bar the stage for these young people (from the foster homes), who have already have reduced opportunities in their childhood, to break out of that circle and prepare themselves to go out into society with dignity, learning a trade and having a formal work experience. We see that the young people who enter to work, decide to continue the university and that fills us with satisfaction”. This is the identity card of the café.
Rolando tells Spokes’ stories as he tells the merits of a son. A little boy who is only two years old, but who was always desired and who has marked the lives of many around him. Spokes not only gives job opportunities to young people from the homes, his customers, suppliers and activities are also part of this spiral of love for others.
An infusion of help
According to UNICEF, in Guatemala only 2.6% of young people between the ages of 18 and 26 have begun their university studies. The vast majority are forced to devote themselves exclusively to work to provide for their families. But there are also those who neither study nor work, but rather commit crimes. Since the 1980s in Guatemala, as in the rest of Central America, there have been gangs that engage in a myriad of criminal activities. It is estimated that in Guatemala there are between 50,000 and 100,000 members. Their members are recruited from youth and marked with tattoos that identify them as members of Mara Salvatrucha or Gang 18 (the two main rival groups). Once marked, it is almost impossible not to be identified as criminals.
Coffee and tattoos? Almost impossible to relate to, but in Spokes the encounter of these two products is not a coincidence. This year the café started a collaboration with the White Whale Foundation. The coffee cups were exchanged for ink bottles and instead of customers, the chairs had young people who left the gangs to start a new life. The symbols that marked their dark past were replaced by colorful designs. One of them even started a bakery business and on his arm he now wears a symbol of his new passion.
At this point in the story, I don’t know if the specialty of this small business is coffee or caring for others. Beware of the aroma of coffee…
Although the season puts gingerbread cookies, like the one I ate, in the spotlight, this role is regularly played by donuts. Round, sweet, colorful and delicious. But they weren’t always there. Initially Rolando asked his supplier for permission to distribute his donuts, known in Guatemala for their excellent quality. But the provider refused and said she was not interested in distributing them. She then asked if she had any donuts to donate, because she wanted to take them to low-income children. The provider said yes, she had some. Within weeks she wanted to donate more and more donuts. Soon after, the provider was so moved by the donation of donuts that she finally agreed to sell donuts to Spokes. A good deed paved the way for a business relationship.
My coffee got a little cold. I couldn’t drink it all when it was hot with so many stories that have left their mark on this business: the days when the profits from sales go to specific causes. The collaboration with the Digna Foundation, to help the integration of people with disabilities The promotion of small local businesses to promote the economy of the sector. The days in which they bring food for people with limited resources, etc.
Rolando says it clearly and from memory: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
For now Spokes is a small shop, but at same time a place for great opportunities. Rolando aspires to be able to open another one and another café where the main ingredient is not only coffee, but also the inclusion of the most unprotected. “We live in a very individualized society, but the good ones must join in – says Rolando – I don’t have the mind of an entrepreneur, but I have the mind of a dreamer”.