Maria’s story: Hungering for Opportunity in Colombia

Portrait of Mar’a Yelud Leyt—n Ch‡vez, 18, in charge of the Borderlands project coffee quality lab at Pasto, Nari–o in Colombia. She is member of a displaced family. Her father fled Nari–o for La Florida escaping death threats from paramilitaries. She is studying an online coffee management technical career and helping her family with her new job. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services

Portrait of Maria Yelud Leyton Chavez, 18, in charge of the Borderlands project coffee quality lab at Pasto, Nario in Colombia.  Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services

Fighting between armed forces made life in Cumbitara, Colombia, dangerous for Maria and her family-so dangerous that 8 years ago they were forced to relocate. They left their home one morning with nothing but a suitcase of clothes.

It wasn’t easy making a new life in Nariño, a region of Colombia known for its coffee. People made fun of Maria and her family because they were outsiders. It was also hard to find work, and Maria’s father left home for months at a time to do dangerous work in a mine.

All that changed when the family bought a little piece of land through the CRS Borderlands project. On it, they grow gourmet coffee that is sold in the United States. And Maria, now 18 years old, is passionate about coffee too. She was chosen for a special program and is earning a degree in farming.

The program, run by the local university and CRS’ Borderlands project staff, trains young people to become leaders in the coffee industry. During her first semester, she learned from staff as they traveled to farms, teaching growers new ways to plant and harvest.

Coffee, which Maria knew nothing about before starting the program, is now her favorite subject. She’s even traveled to Seattle, Washington, to attend a conference on specialty coffee.

“It is in my blood,” she says. “Coffee is so much a part of everyday life-not just for me and my family, but globally. It’s not just a plant or something you drink, it brings people together.”

Now she has a new career goal: to help neighboring coffee farmers make a living growing the best coffee possible.

Read more stories about how Lenten alms become lifesaving aid at



This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor.

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