Inside a former instrument storage room on the campus of Rochester College, a small cup of dark roast coffee is helping to make a big difference.
With the help of a few dedicated volunteers, the storage room inside the college's student center has been transformed into a working coffee shop. Called Kibo Corner Coffee Cafe, it features coffee and espresso drinks, hot chocolate and tea.
The coffee shop is named for the highest point in Africa, the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro. All of its proceeds support development projects in East Africa.
But to those who grind and brew the beans each morning, the story is much bigger than coffee.
A mission trip
Kibo Corner is open from 7:30-11 a.m. every weekday. It's located inside the college's Ham Library building on Avon Road. Larry Norman, a retired Rochester College business professor, runs the coffee shop.
Two years ago, Norman visited Uganda for two weeks on a mission trip to work with an organization called Kibo Group International. The organization supports sustainability projects in East Africa.
"I was so convinced by what they were doing I came home wanting to do something to raise funds and awareness for this organization," said Norman, 66, who lives in Shelby Township.
It started with some coffee beans he brought home in his luggage that year. He describes the coffee beans as shade-grown, hand-selected.
He had an idea for a coffee shop on campus, and administrators supported him by finding a small 8-foot-by-8-foot location. He purchased shelving and counters from the Rochester Hills Borders store when it closed last year. The coffee shop was open for an hour and a half each morning.
That first year, it raised $8,000 for the organization.
Coffee from the homeland
Last summer, Norman returned to Uganda, this time for two months. He brought back with him more coffee — and a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the Kibo mission. One project that inspires him is Water Source — building and maintaining clean water wells.
"In Uganda, very well-meaning people go over, dig wells, then leave," Norman said. "This group helps get the community ready to manage and maintain those wells."
Kibo also supports reforestation, education and literacy programs and women's empowerment projects.
"Before this, I had never been to a third world country," Norman said. "I was getting close to retirement and needed something to do. I fell in love with this — not just what Kibo is doing, but how they are doing it."
The Rochester College community has longstanding connections to Uganda; several professors have spent years serving as missionaries there and the school has a study abroad program in the country.
Rogers Biina is a sophomore business student at Rochester College. He is from Uganda and helps Norman at the coffee shop.
"It's my homeland, and it feels like I'm home when I'm here," said Biina, 22.
Tell your friends
Norman said he hopes the news will spread about his little coffee shop that could. The coffee is dark and full of flavor, he said. More importantly, when you buy a cup, you're directly supporting the farmers who grow it.
"We have an ability to do a lot of things with a very small amount of money," Norman said.
"Where will we go from here? I don't know."
Kibo Corner is open from 7:30-11 a.m. every weekday inside the student center in the Ham Library building on the Rochester College campus. Coffee drinks range from $1.75-$3.25. There is plenty of parking outside the building.