At Yogi Tea, we believe that the purpose of business is to serve. We do this in many ways from how we treat our employees, business partners, vendors, and consumers to the deep partnerships and connection we have with our grower communities.
First a little background. There are five original spices that started the Yogi Tea story, Cardamom, Peppercorn, Clove, Ginger and Cinnamon. As one of the original spices and key ingredient, cardamom is central to Yogi Tea in over 70% of our teas worldwide. We source cardamom from multiple locations, with the majority coming from Honduras in Central America.
There is a beautiful village and surrounding area that is home to nearly 1200 people in a very remote area of Northwest Honduras, high in the mountains and deep in a lush forest. It is essentially at the end of the road because to continue past the village requires the most rugged 4×4 off road style vehicle to cross the river and then continue on the rough track that is the only “road”.
Over a year ago, Yogi Tea began the journey with our partners to serve the village community of Santa Teresa with a bridge. The bridge has now been completed and allows children to easily attend school, for families to access the only “store” and for safe passage across the river during the monsoon season. More than one year later, “Puente Yogi” is still standing strong as ever. It has survived multiple major rain storms, where the bridge has been completely submerged with raging water doing its best to test the strength of the bridge. After each storm, the bridge has re-emerged in excellent condition.
After this outstanding performance and delivery by the villagers of Santa Teresa and the steadfast oversight and support from the Jerezano family, Yogi Tea set out on our second major project, building an improved school complex. Through numerous discussions and revised drawings we ended up with a plan that would significantly expand the current facilities and set the village up for ongoing growth and education for their children.
Gerry Gegenhuber, VP Global Procurement, visited the village in June to participate in the official ground breaking ceremony. From that day onward, it has literally rained every day.
The weather conditions did not dampen the spirits of the villagers. As they did with the bridge project last year, they came together to support the development of their community and build the future for their children. They started work early every morning in order to beat the afternoon monsoon downpours. Each day was an exercise in patience and acceptance to work with the conditions they had and make the most of it.
Under the direct guidance of Jose Manuel Jerezano (one of the four Jerezano sons), the villagers built a wonderful new school complex which includes three new classrooms, new toilet facilities, new teachers room, new roof on the existing school building, a new wall to add additional classroom in the existing building, concrete slab for games/activities, and a stage for common use. All in all, this new facility significantly upgrades their old facilities and creates classrooms for children up to grade 9.
As the project was nearing completion, the village council invited Yogi Tea and our partners to join them for an official re-opening ceremony. Three of us from Yogi Tea including our CEO, Conrad Myers, VP Global Procurement, Gerry Gegenhuber, Director Global Community Relations, Sat Bir Khalsa, travelled to Honduras to share in the ceremony.
It was a long journey with multiple flights and long car rides to arrive in San Pedro Sula. We took advantage of the afternoon of the first day of arrival to get some rest and plan for the next day’s festivities. Bright and early at 5:30am, Mr. Manuel Jerezano met us at the hotel and drove us to his home (1.5 hours) for a fresh homemade breakfast by his wife, Mrs. Jerezano. Around 8am we set off on the 2 hours drive to reach the village before the afternoon rains arrived. The drive from Mr. Jerezano’s home is on a dirt road winding up and down through the mountains, crossing streams, driving in and out of clouds, passing tiny villages, honking a hello as we pass, and all the while going deeper into the mountains and forest. We had a caravan of three vehicles to ensure safety and support if any issues arose.
Along the way we saw multiple examples of where the very heavy rains had caused serious damage or even made the roads impassable. A major bridge had a section washed away but luckily had been fixed by the time we needed it. (Plan B was for us to literally use mules to cross the river if the conditions required it – luckily that was not the case). As we came close to our destination all the trucks were forced into 4×4 and low gear to get through the final kilometers of the journey. The road became more of a deep rutted, steep inclined, path where no normal vehicles could pass further (including a spot where a truck delivering essential supplies, was unable to get up a hill and was treacherously navigating backwards towards us). Luckily we had incredibly skilled drivers and the right vehicles to manage the terrain.
Finally we came to an opening and there in front of us was the village. The school complex was off to the left down the hill a little ways and several turquoise buildings lined the road. This time we saw signs of improvement with newly installed electrical poles which served to bring power to the village. The houses however have no windows, only bars across the openings, and they were constructed with either cinder block or wood and tin roofs. We were greeted with inquisitive eyes, excited children, and a sense of warmth from the people we passed.
Here it was, more than a year since our first visit and the vision of a school complex had become a reality. What started as rough drawings on a paper was now a wholly built, solid complex ready to serve the village and create opportunity for the future leaders (the children). We got out of the vehicles and began mingling with the villagers, exchanging smiles, hand shakes, taking pictures, and sharing in the moment.
Jose Manuel Jerezano (normally shy and quiet tempered) was the MC for the ceremony. It was opened with a beautiful prayer by the village pastor. He thanked God for Yogi Tea, the Jerezano family, and our partners PGI for the gift and support to build the school complex. He wished all blessings on us for continued success. The school Principal presented us with a plaque and extended gratitude on behalf of all the families and children. He informed us how the new complex will expand the education opportunities of the children in the village as well as support some older children from surrounding villages.
Mr. Jerezano gave a very rousing speech with a focus on creating the best opportunities for the children. He challenged the parents to take ownership in ensuring the school complex, the facilities, and the education of their children be a priority. He told them this is theirs, that they built it, that they will be the reason for its success.
To close out his speech, Mr. Jerezano surprised us by removing a center section of the cloth backdrop on the stage and revealing a wonderful plaque dedicated to all the parties that helped build the school complex. At the bottom of the plaque the quote reads:
“Nunca te canses de hacer el bien”
“Never tire of Doing Good”
Gerry Gegenhuber followed with sharing our gratitude for being part of this project, for the Cardamom the growers provide us, and the passion with which they approach life. He informed them about the story of their school complex and that people around the world, both Yogi Tea employees, and global Yogi Tea consumers had been following the progress and felt part of the journey.
Conrad Myers spoke about the future, the children, and the gratitude we feel to be part of their progress. He expressed gratitude on behalf of the global Yogi Tea family. He shared appreciation for the Jerezano family and the villagers for making this vision a reality.
Sat Bir Khalsa spoke about the connection to the finished tea and the Founders vision for tea for every person on the planet. That we believe our product can make a difference in the world and it starts with the families who sow the fields and harvest the Cardamom. That we are all interconnected in this journey and we are proud to be partners. He finished with expressing gratitude for the blessings from the Pastor and that the real blessing was to be welcomed by the villagers and to be part of their family.
Similar to last years’ visit, we did not come empty handed. We brought over 50 backpacks and other school supplies and our partner PGI brought soccer balls and other sports equipment. This was again the most interactive part of the ceremony, you don’t need to speak each other’s language to understand really cool new stuff. The children’s faces were radiant and inquisitive and of course when the soccer balls came out, they immediately started kicking them around.
Following the ceremony we headed down to visit Puente Yogi. We stopped midway down the hill where there were cardamom fields. We were able to learn about the plants, their harvest cycle, and the challenges faced with ensuring only ripe pods are picked at the right time. The cardamom plants grow on vines at the base of large plants with expansive leaves. They grow on steep hill slopes. Not all the pods per plant ripen at the same time. The harvest season is 1-3 months. Villagers will pick up to 250 pounds per day each. The slope of the hills can require using your hands and feet to stay upright. It was eye-opening to get to experience the process and the conditions in which cardamom is grown.
We got back in the vehicles and made it down to Puente Yogi. As we had seen in the pictures and videos shared, the bridge was still in excellent condition having weathered a couple monsoon seasons. The planks on the bridge were all intact and the approach to the bridge did not show any signs of washing out. It was remarkable to see how well this bridge was standing in contrast to other bridges along the way up the village which has been washed out or damaged.
After exchanging more gratitude, we headed out, back to the real world, back to paved roads, and the hustle of city life. Turns out there was still a little more adventure in store for us. The vehicle Mr. Jerezano was driving, Diesel 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser, overheated and started steaming. As luck would have it, this occurred as we were crossing a stream. For the next 20 – 30 minutes we worked together to replenish the radiator with water and help to cool off the engine before it would restart. Restarting the vehicle was a lesson as well with needing to hook it up to another vehicle using a rope, pulling the vehicle up the hill enough to when it was released it would roll backwards and jump start using the backwards momentum. Mr. Jerezano jump started the vehicle like a pro, the radiator was refilled with water, the engine cooled, and we were back on the way. Finally, we arrived back at the Jerezano home and were again graciously hosted by Mrs. Jerezano and another lovingly prepared meal. She made sure our stomachs were full and our hearts were overflowing.
On the trip home I reflected on this beautiful experience. Our founder, Yogi Bhajan, had a vision that Yogi Tea would be available to every person on the planet. He felt the gift of Yogi Tea should be shared to serve all people. While we have a long way to go, bringing Yogi Tea to share with the villagers in this remote area of Honduras to show them the cycle of their Cardamom, I found myself smiling, believing Yogi Bhajan would be proud of where the company is and the good we are doing spreading Yogi Tea to the world. Our global Yogi Tea Family is making this possible and we are blessed to be sharing this journey together.