The final mural that was finished by the community in Santa Elena, Honduras.
“Mike!... Mike!..... Tenemos luz pero necesitamos electricidad!.. Que hacemos?!”
Mike!... Mike!..... We have a light but we need electricity!.. What can we do?!
It was 6:30pm in Santa Elena, Honduras, a town in the rural coffee growing region near the El Salvador border. The sun had already been down for over an hour. I stared blankly at a white wall in the middle of the town. It had been a long day. My mind was resting. My body, tired. Dinner and sleep sounded great. But we had a goal, an objective - and the clock was ticking. We had a group, Asociación de Artistas Chalchiguas, of two art teachers and ten high school students that traveled all the way from La Esperanza, Honduras to lead this project in Santa Elena.
Between the 3-19 Coffee volunteers and the artist group, our team had two objectives this weekend. The first was to lead the participants at the youth conference in drawing and painting workshops. The second, to manage the painting of the first mural to ever be completed in Santa Elena. The first objective was simple enough, especially for Luis, Suny (art teachers), and their team who had led art programs before. But the second, the second carried weight. The weight of the town. This would be Santa Elena’s first mural in the city and we needed to make sure it was a success.. in 36 hours or less.
Let’s go back a few months and figure out how we got to this moment in the first place..
My partner Mike (yes we are both Mike) through a friend, landed at a fundraiser for the Catracha community in San Francisco. There he met our now dear friends Mayra and Lowell from Catracha Coffee. Mike discussed that he was launching 3-19 Coffee and that we wanted to live our mission to support communities where we source our coffee from day one. Mayra explained that in Santa Elena, where Catracha represents over 60 small coffee farmers, there were not many opportunities at art for the youth of the community. Mike knew the coffee that came out of Santa Elena through Catracha was not only high quality, but the profit sharing model Mayra and Lowell used with their farmers was exactly the type of organization we wanted to work with to source our coffee beans. Mike discussed with Catracha the idea of a 3-19 Coffee origin trip with a project to help sponsor an art program in the community. Mayra and Lowell loved the idea and thought it was something that would be well received in the community and the trip planning began that evening.
Light arrived just in time for the team to continue working into the night.
“Mayra, conoces a un vecino que nos puede prestar su electricidad por uso con el mural?”
Mayra, do you know a neighbor that can let us use their electricity so we can use it to work on the mural?
At this point it was probably 7 o’clock on friday night, not late, but we had been working the youth conference all day. As the sun went down, all painting of the mural had to stop due to lack of light. No one had eaten dinner and Mayra had been busy running the conference of 120 youth of Santa Elena all day long. But without hesitation, Mayra tracked down an extension cord and negotiated using a neighbors electricity. The paused mural work was back on! I pulled out my bluetooth speaker, the high school kids cued up some banda music, and the painting resumed. This group of artists were talented, really talented.
Hours earlier we met with community leaders, both men and women, who poured ideas of cultural items, traditions, and scenes they wanted included in the mural. The artist group, along with our talented friend Demart Denaro, sketched ideas on a white board and now they were bringing it to life, only bigger, much bigger - in the middle of town, at night, blasting music, on little sleep, and empty stomachs.
Demart Denaro helped build a home that will function as an artist residency in Santa Elena and volunteered at the youth conference. The original design for the mural sits behind him on the whiteboard.
Dinner came soon after we got the spotlight. The cooking team of volunteers from the Santa Elena community was nothing short of remarkable. Throughout the weekend and two day conference they fed something like 150 people. Not just a few meals, no. They had delicious coffee in the morning. A morning snack before lunch. Large tasty lunches. Snack and coffee in the afternoon and even a refreshment at the end of each conference day. I’m not even sure where they got all this food. Mayra had told us that she ran two youth conferences the last two years, but to watch how all of this came together with kids and volunteers was truly impressive. You could see the heart in this group, they wore them on their sleeves and didn’t stop until every last child received their snack, beverage, or lunch.
The night rolled on after dinner, 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock, 11.. The painting of the mural on the wall continued. The music played. The group of artists was functioning like a perfect unit. Luis and Suny worked with the high school kids to make sure the drawing was coming together the way it was envisioned by the community representatives. We began helping where we could, but Mike and I don’t have much artistic talent.. They pulled us in anyway.
“Aqui es un pincel Mike”
Here is a paint brush Mike.
I had never been a part of a mural before, much less any significant piece of art. The last art project I completed was in high school and a painting of Mr. Peanut. What amazed me the most was the amount of planning, strategy, and work that was involved. This was a big project, a 30’ x 8’ wall. And we were down to 30 hours to finish before showcasing it to the Mayor and community on Sunday morning. Every volunteer, every youth, every student, every hand - was needed to complete this mural in Santa Elena.
Every volunteer and participant was served breakfast with delicious Catracha Coffee from local producers.
"Quien mas necesita desayuno todavia?"
Who else needs breakfast still?
Mayra and her team were up early making sure every last volunteer was fed by 7:30am so the 2nd day of the youth conference could start on time. Did I mention the coffee was good? Day two of the conference included more workshops with the youth. The workshop trainings Mayra and her team organized for the morning sessions consisted of coffee making, healthy food and nutrition, hair cutting, cell phone repair, and entreprenuership. The participants had their choice of which they wanted to attend, many attending all of the workshops.
Luis, Suny, and the high school art team were hard at work all morning. Painting, sketching, mixing paint, cleaning brushes, painting, repeat. We were working against the clock and at this point the mural was probably 20% complete. Again, I cannot stress enough the amount of work that goes into a mural of this size. We needed more hands, as many as we could get. That afternoon during the drawing and painting classes, we brought every conference participant in groups of ten to contribute to the mural. Children as young as 4 years old had a paintbrush in hand and were adding to the mural that would hopefully stand the test of time in Santa Elena. The wall was slowly morphing from a blank white, to an artistic masterpiece full of blues, reds, yellows, greens, and purples. Each student participated in the painting of the mural - their mural, in their town.
Every youth conference participant painted a piece of the community mural.
“Ustedes tienen alma.”
You guys have soul.
After the youth conference was over. We all sat on the street admiring the mural. Mayra and her team were there along with the Mayor of Santa Elena who was very pleased will how it turned out. Luis, Suny and their team of young artists from La Ezperanza were getting ready to pack up their truck to make the drive back home.
All I could think of as we said goodbye - was how amazing this group of people were that came together to make this a special weekend for the youth of Santa Elena. The dedication to the effort by Mayra’s team and the artists from La Esperanza wasn’t just worth noting, it was worth explaining in long form. We all worked so hard every waking moment of the weekend. All I could think to tell Mayra and Luis was that they and their teams had soul - deep commitment to the success of the weekend. Passion to make sure every child felt special. They worked so hard with their teams. They worked and worked to make sure every youth conference participant had a memorable weekend. Each night we worked well past sundown to make sure the community had a mural to be proud of come Sunday morning. Each morning, the cooking team was up well before 5am to make sure breakfast was prepared for the volunteers and youth conference participants.
This youth conference in Santa Elena is exactly why we took the risk to start 3-19 Coffee in the first place and make coffee, art, and community part of our story from day one.
Its relationships like these that we hope to continue long into our future as coffee roasters. When we talk about sourcing relationships with our farmers - there are no better people than Mayra and Lowell at Catracha Coffee. The youth conference weekend in Santa Elena is one that Mike and I will never forget. It is our intention to continue supporting the conference every year as part of 3-19 Coffee’s commitment to the community of Santa Elena.
The team of artists from La Esperanza and Mayra and Lowell of Catracha Coffee in front of Santa Elena's first mural.
Check out our Merch+ page to find the coffee tin with the mural from Santa Elena! youth conference participant painted a piece of the community mural.