Coffee company funding girls’ education in Mozambique one bag at a time
Brett Kuxhausen
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Gorongosa Coffee

When it comes to education, females are still at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. Sixteen million girls around the world will never set foot in a classroom, and women account for two-thirds of the 750 million adults without basic literacy skills, according to UNESCO.

This gender inequality is also a major cause and effect of poverty and hunger, with women and girls making up an estimated 60% of chronically hungry people, statistics from U.N. Women reveal.

Girls' education is a crucial component of decreasing the gender gap; every additional year of primary school a girl attends will increase her eventual wages by 10 to 20% and encourage her to marry later and have fewer children, leaving her less vulnerable to violence and poverty.

While there are many ways in which we can contribute to the efforts of those working to ensure girls get the education they deserve, one company has made it as simple as buying a bag of coffee.

In 2015, the Gorongosa Project partnered with green bean coffee experts and local farmers to plant coffee on Mount Gorongosa in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. The shade-grown coffee is planted alongside native tree saplings to restore the depleted rainforest and provide farmers with a sustainable source of income.

Brett Kuxhausen

From this, Gorongosa Coffee was born. The company, founded by Gorongosa National Park, directly supports the activities of the Gorongosa Project, with every purchase of its products aiding human development and conservation activities in the area.

The beans are harvested by small-scale producers in Mozambique and then roasted into three different blends by partners around the world. Each blend serves a specific impact area, including wildlife conservation, rainforest reforestation, and girls' education.

One hundred percent of the profits from the Girls Run the World blend help to build 100 schools, give 20,000 girls access to after-school programs, and provide 500 high school scholarships. Even the purchase of just one bag equals one day in school for a girl.

"Our main aim is to keep girls in school, because for many reasons, as soon as girls are old enough…12 or 13, they normally are sent to get married," Larissa Sousa, the girls education program manager at Gorongosa National Park, said.

One way the park does this is through its Girls' Club, a program that works to prevent premature marriages and keep girls in school so they have access to more resources and can become self-reliant.

"We want to work with the most vulnerable…in the community to give opportunity to these children. So what we want is to try to have this generation of women who have the opportunity to continue education, who can grow and be what they want to be, who have better opportunities than the previous generation had," Sousa said.

Brett Kuxhausen

Sousa explains the program works to inform both the girls and their parents of the importance of getting an education and how that will have a big impact on their future.

"What we are doing is for these girls to try to create safe spaces, open doors to the opportunities that they can have, and also create that sense of thinking about the future that what you do today will have an action, a reaction in the future, that everything we do has a consequence," she said.

The results of the work Sousa and Girls' Club are doing is already evident.

"We've known the girls for some time now, so now we can see that they are already more confident. They want to know more about the world," Sousa said.

"In the beginning, you would greet the girls and they would run away. They're open now to opportunities. They want to know more of life…they're curious. It's very interesting how some of the girls already come and say, oh I want to be a doctor, I want to be this, because now they see this is possible so that's what makes us work harder every day," she said.

Anora Manuel, 13, is one such example. Manuel participates in Girls' Club after school and says she wants to be a ranger when she grows up.

"I live with my father and grandfather. I don't have a mother. I'm a child and I want to study. I don't want to get married," Manuel said.

To help Girls' Club continue this important work, all you have to do is swap your current coffee for Gorongosa Coffee's Girls Run the World blend and know that with every sip, you're helping close the gender gap and giving a girl the opportunity to dream bigger for her life.

Put simply, "educating a woman is educating a society," according to Sousa.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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