Here is one woman who felt called to an unconventional life, dreamed outside of the box for aiding poverty, and co-founded Akola Project with her boyfriend James. Originally a Pre-Law student, Sarah Buchanan was studying for the LSAT when she left the country for the first time to Kenya. What she experienced changed her life so that she changed her major, and for the next years she held on to her dream and worked hard at making Kula Project the success that it is now. Read our Q&A with Sarah to see how she is making a difference in Rwanda one coffee bean at a time!
What is the mission and vision of Kula Project and how do you fulfill it?
Our mission is to invest in family farmers to create generational change, and our vision is empower families to be able to support their families on their own through the income we help them earn via coffee farming.
We use a model that we call “Connected Development.” All of our programs are designed by the people that we are trying to serve, as we firmly believe people living in the communities know what they need to make it better.
Once we have an outline for the program, we bring in local experts to build the knowledge and technological transfer aspects of development, and then we refine as we go as things are almost always different in practice than they are in theory. Currently, we are helping our helping our families grow more coffee, grow better coffee, and then once it’s ready, we help them sell it on the international market.
Is Kula project solely in Rwanda or, is it in other countries too?
We have one project in Kenya, but the far majority of our work is in Rwanda.
How did you come up with the name “Kula” knowing it means “community of heart”?
Working primarily in Rwanda, we have families in our program that both survived the genocide and committed it, and they come together to grow coffee for the common goal of sending their children to school and creating a life of opportunity and progress for their families. We thought that “a community of heart” was the perfect way to describe that.
What is one of your best memories throughout founding and running Kula project?
You know, that actually isn’t as easy of a question as you would think. Starting and running Kula has been the hardest and most challenging thing I have ever done. I’ve almost quit several times. I’ve lost friends and even relationships with extended family members, and it’s been really tough.
Three and a half years in, I am just getting to a point where I love my job. So, in a strange way, I would say that all the really hard and emotional memories collectively is my favorite memory. It is mind-blowing to me to look back over the last few years and see how far we have come and how many people have been there the whole way, even when we were consistently failing… so to see all the peaks and valleys He has brought and continues to bring us through is incredible.
What did you see or experience that impacted you so deeply (on your first trip to Kenya when in college)?
When I signed up to go to Kenya, I had to then sign up to get a passport. I had never been out of the country, especially not to a developing nation… I truly expected mass devastation, sorrow, violence, hopelessness, etc, but what I was saw was, despite the existence of those things, there was pure and genuine joy.
In East Africa, I’ve learned more about what it truly means to depend on Jesus and to live a life of faithfulness than you could ever learn sitting in a church. I was and remain to be so inspired by the inherent dignity of the people we work with and their anxiousness to serve those around them and our a team, and that has deeply impacted the way in which I view to the world.
Our readers are women from their late teens and early twenties, what would you say to them about serving others in need, and staying open to change if they feel a call?
Never in a million years would I have chosen to do what I am doing. In fact, when I was younger, my mom would say, “One day, God is going to call you into ministry!” and I would respond with, “Well, I’m not answering.” It turns out, she was right.
I started Kula when I was 26, and it has been extremely hard, much more then I anticipated, but, it has also been the greatest gift, more so than I could ever imagine. When I’m in Rwanda, I feel more myself than anywhere else in the world. I continue to learn things about myself that I didn’t know, which is only possible because I’m where God created me to be.
He has given me the privilege and honor to be a part of so many incredible stories- families that have survived genocide and families that committed genocide- all participate in our program, and I get to be a witness to this extraordinary forgiveness, joy, and love.
I would say the best advice I could give is to not discount something you feel in your heart because it doesn’t look like what you thought your calling would look like. When you are open to what God has for you, I promise you it will be immeasurably more than you could ever dream up on your own!