Rwandan genocide survivor runs Vancouver coffee business

Rwandan genocide survivor runs Vancouver coffee business


In an unassuming coffeehouse tucked away in an industrial area of East Vancouver, sacks of coffee beans from the Rawandan farm Nadine Umutoni remembers from her childhood are being hand-roasted and readied for sale.


The survivor of the genocide that griped Rwanda in 1994 still has trouble talking about what she saw as an eight-year-old girl, but Umutoni hopes her nascent online business will make enough money so that others will get the help they need.


“A portion is going to help them get mental health and trauma therapy,” said the owner of Neza Coffee.


“The survival was on a daily basis, hourly basis, so it really is hard for me to sit here and for me to tell you exactly how we survived.”


Most of her family did not. But Umutoni’s mother sent her to the neighbour’s house to hide. There, the child had to pretend to be Hutu, not Tutsi, in order to survive.


“I was surrounded by kids, older people with machetes, with stones, with guns, all ready to kill me,” said Umutoni.


The courageous neighbour saved her life by telling members of the armed militia that Umutoni was her child, and that they would have to kill her first.


Now, decades later, the entrepreneur is importing coffee from her family farm to sell in Canada. It is being bought using fair trade standards, which means it is pricey. A pound of roasted beans sells online for $22.


But certified Q grader Nelson Teskey – think of him as a coffee sommelier – argues it is worth the cost.


“This coffee is an 86 score, which is exceptional,” said Teskey.


The higher price also means Umutoni’s family members who still work on the farm back home, where conditions have improved tremendously, can make a living doing what they love. 


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