by Alexis Dutt
Managing editor of The Drury Mirror travels with Chocolate University
Three months ago, if you had asked me where my chocolate came from, I probably would have answered “Wal-Mart” without a second thought. However, after traveling to Tanzania with the Chocolate University, “where” no longer just means the store.
Chocolate University? No, it is not a school for Oompa Loompas, but a two-and-a-half-week program that pairs Springfield high school students with local businessman and advocate for social responsibility, Shawn Askinosie. This year, 12 students from four different schools were selected to first spend a week at Drury under the guidance of Dr. John Taylor before 10 incredible days in western Tanzania.
“Drury Week,” as it affectionately became known, featured lessons in the international cocoa trade, the Askinosie Chocolate business model, Tanzanian culture, and the Swahili language.
Five flights, six airports, and 50 hours in the air later, we touched down in Tanzania. The week was split between two different villages and schools. The actual time on the ground in Tanzania had multiple goals under the overreaching umbrella mission of a business trip. Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was working with the young women who participated in the Empowered Girls program, which was designed to teach about things like family planning and HIV/AIDS in addition to showing them that they do have worth and their voices do matter. Another highlight was the ground-breaking ceremony for two new classrooms that the Chocolate University students raised funds for.
My job—besides helping corral 12 high school kids—was to lead a nutrition seminar for mothers with two of the students and Shawn’s wife Caron, a nurse. We covered everything from vitamins to personal hygiene.
Above all else, Shawn was there to buy cocoa beans. I soon realized that the way he did business was far from the norm. Namely, he shares his profits with the farmers. That means that a portion of the money made on every chocolate bar that they sell goes back to its origin: the farmers. Shawn also led a visioning workshop with the farmers’ co-op to get them looking toward the future.
That week in Tanzania made me look at my life through different eyes. I was shown how much beauty there was in a simple happiness found by being centered in passion and selflessness. I wish I could bottle the feeling of singing and dancing with the children at the schools, completely enveloped in the love that they immediately showed our entire group. The motto of Chocolate University is “Kujengana,” a Swahili word meaning “to build each other up,” and I can guarantee that the Tanzanian people did just that. They will never leave my heart.