With Friday the 8th of March being International Women’s Day, we felt it was appropriate to profile a local woman of Marcala who is standing strong in a world of poverty, discrimination and corruption. Her achievements are testament to what can be accomplished, despite the odds, and will hopefully encourage many other women to stand up and be counted for.
Name: Nancy Hernandez
Studied: Escuela de Catadores (Centro de Investigación y Capacitación Jesús Aguilar Paz)
Job Titles: Barista, Tester, Entrepreneur
Nancy Hernandez is one of only five women in all of Honduras that works as a coffee ‘tester’ and the only female one in Marcala. She has gone against the grain and taken up this occupation, challenging gender stereotypes in a male dominated sector because of her love and passion for quality coffee. As it stands, she currently has two coffee shops in Marcala and is hoping to expand into the capital of Tegucigalpa in the future. In a town where everyone produces and consumes their own coffee, Nancy has a dream to sell only the highest quality, setting herself apart from the norm. This is a challenge she freely admits will be tough, but then life has never been that easy. This is her inspirational story:
Nancy came from a broken family, her parents divorced when she was a young child and so it was difficult for her and her six brothers. She started (as most Honduran children do) working in the fields when she was about ten years old to help gain extra income, but this inadvertently initiated her love affair with coffee at such a tender age. Starting at the very bottom, she was a cleaner at a cooperative, but without her parents encouraging her to study at university she took it upon herself to learn off her own back. After secondary school, she did move away from the coffee industry briefly, before her affection brought her back and she went off to study at the Escuela de Catadores.
Studying at the Escuela de Catadores was no walk over either, with several entrance exams in place before they judge each applicant on the potential their senses have to develop in order to become top baristas. Of the 500 applicants attempting to succeed at the same time as Nancy, only 22 were accepted. On top of being a learning experience and a highly regarded qualification, she believes it was this experience that really changed her life, giving her the knowledge that she now applies in her business.
She has now learnt all about the coffee making process, testing and tasting coffee, alongside roasting, but is quick to mention that she has plenty more to learn. With several trips to both the U.S and Europe she has gained information directly from buyers on what their demands are, plus experienced different methodologies to help her adapt. One area in which she knows she can develop is her English so that her inquisitive nature can be matched with the ability to ask the relevant questions at these exchanges. All of this goes a long way to getting Marcala the international recognition it is working towards with Nancy at the forefront.
Although there are an estimated 110,000 families in Honduras who produce coffee, Nancy relies on her wealth of experience and knowledge of both raw materials and the process to run a successful business. She prides her shop as “the face of coffee in Marcala”, but really you could give that title to Nancy herself as she inspires a whole town and generation. With her philosophy of ‘real poverty is in the head’, she is living proof that those from any background can make it in Honduras with the right attitude and a sufficient amount of hard work.
Nancy is hoping that the cultural revolution which she has begun with her husband as her right hand will become a legacy over time. However, with her eight-year-old daughter adamant on studying to become a doctor, she jokes that she will have to have more children for that to happen. With the current demand for high quality coffee in the developed world and her drive and determination, I am sure she will continue to break down barriers, set trends and be a visionary in the coffee industry of Honduras.
Progressio ICS volunteer James Martin reflects on Women's Day of one extraordinary young lady called Nancy.
Photos taken by Progressio ICS volunteers Liv Ferrari and Lorena Cotza