Chanya (Grace) Thanglerdsumpan (Ruamrudee International School ‘21) founded RISing coffee as an ambitious, young 7th grader in Bangkok, Thailand. Little did she know that RISing Coffee would become a social-enterprise that supports and connects the farming communities across Northern Thailand with her own local community. Let’s hear her story!
Changing lives one bag at a time: What is RISing Coffee?
RISing Coffee is more than just a project; it is a journey. Coffee is one of the most consumed drinks in the world, yet coffee drinkers are not fully aware of how little the farmers are being paid or their living conditions. The final destination of this journey is to be able to support coffee farmers in Northern Thailand through fair trade and combining all of our efforts together to improve their lives. RISing is a service committee founded by me and a few other students at Ruamrudee International School, Bangkok, five years ago. It is a student project that embraces the essence of service learning and sustainable business model. Most importantly, our project promotes fair trade. What RISing does is sell coffee from Khun Lao, a village in the northern part of Thailand, to our RIS community and the proceeds are returned back to the farmers through donation of the essentials they need in their daily lives. Our project’s main coffee distributor and roaster is ThaiHigh Coffee. As a social enterprise, they help train the farmers in these mountainous villages to grow and farm different types of coffee beans, while paying the farmer a higher rate per each kilogram of yields. This difference in rate that several might have otherwise viewed as trivial has been very significant to these villagers' lives. The extra amount of money that these farmers are being paid has enabled them to live in comfortable houses, to financially support their children’s education, and to have a better quality of life. I myself have witnessed the significance of our contribution as our committee has been travelling up north to Chiangmai annually to visit the farmers, the villagers, and their ever expanding plantations. This year, with the profit that we have made from our sales, we have also donated supplies that the residents of Khun Lao village needed. For instance, we have extended our help to the local school in the village where we donated school supplies as well as medical kits, and we also donated various farming equipment to be used by any of the farmers in the village.
Brewing My Idea:
“RISing” was the name that we came up with as it relates to how we, the RIS community, together with the help of several other people will work to raise the living standards of the farmers in Northern Thailand.
This service project was initially a collaboration between different international schools in Thailand to promote fair trade and to support domestic farmers. When we were all still in junior high, my friend, and my upperclassman, and I attended FairNIST’s workshop at a student-lead service conference in Bangkok, and we were inspired to initiate the same type of project at our own school. The stories of the farmers and villagers whose lives were improved were primarily the real reason that made us join this journey. This project provides the farmers and their family with a sustainable source of income and also paves an alternative path for the villagers of the hill tribes in northern Thailand. The land which had originally been used to grow illegal drugs such as opium, is now being used to farm coffee and tea. Furthermore, instead of a one-time charity event or donation, members of this project will actually be able to build a strong bond with the farmers, bridging communities that would have otherwise been separated by mountains and social inequality. All of these reasons truly give this project a whole different appeal and were and still are my motivation that keeps this project going.
The biggest challenge that I have faced since founding RISing Coffee was actually taking the first step. To be more precise, it was very difficult to actually put our plan into action. A lot of things are easier said than done, and I think that this rings true for all kinds of project planning. When we came up with our goals for this project, it was very simple and easy. When we decided to start selling the coffee, things went relatively smoothly as well and money constantly flowed in. After the first couple of years, we already had a lot of money from the coffee sales but the main problem was how do we directly return this money to the farmers. Even though we are supporting them through purchasing their coffee, that action itself does not fulfill our entire purpose. So the challenge of actually planning when, how, and through what ways we will be able to aid the farmers directly was quite overwhelming at first. While organizing the trip to Chiangmai, we received a lot of pressure from our activities coordinator, but at the same time, we also received a lot of support from our members. Like they say, the first step is always the hardest step. But as soon as we were able to set our specific goal, contact all of the people involved, and laid out all of the basic foundations, we were able to gain momentum and things have been accelerating ever since then. Now, we have been gradually circulating back the money through ways that could develop Khun Lao village and assist the farmers. We are now also planning to expand RISing to not only focus on fairtrade but also raise awareness on sustainable consumption by reusing coffee grounds to do various things. Hence, what truly helped me overcome this challenge was support from my peers and committee members, leadership and planning experience that I gained throughout the years, and lastly, the courage to actually take the first step forward.
Most Valuable Thing I Learned:
In my opinion, RISing coffee has been a really significant part of my highschool years. I climbed aboard on this journey since I was in grade 7 without really knowing how far we could get. All I was prepared for was to give this all my best effort. My passion still remains unfazed until this day but one thing that has definitely changed was me myself. This experience has taught me several things and made me grow into the person I am today. It taught me that with a bit of time and effort we trade for putting others’ needs before our own, the results that we get in return is much more rewarding. By this, I do not mean that these services should be done in order to receive tangible rewards, but the “reward” from this experience is knowing that we have now made a positive impact on someone’s life and their family’s well being as well. Furthermore, even though I may be only a high school junior, I have learned that as long as I have the courage to step forward and the will to persevere, I can contribute to society as much as an adult can as well. Regardless of where you are in your life, if you have a cause you are passionate about and the determination to reach your goal, then you too can make a change.
Should you have any further questions or inquiries, you may reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org! This article was written by Alicia Zhang in April of 2020 as part of the Student Alliance’s Student Stories. You may find more information about the issue on our website www.thestudentalliance.org and Instagram page @thestudentalliance. Thanks for reading!